Buford Wilson, a literally-inclined young man in his late twenties, aspired to be an author (not a writer), and was not short of ambition. Specifically, he wanted to write The Great American Novel. Now that hypothetical work shows the place and culture of America in a specific time. It should be a fictional work that quintessentially defines the American Experience. A lofty goal, for sure! He even read the great Russian literature of the 19th century to experience great literature, guys like Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov, Gogol, and Dostoyevsky.
And he had lots of ideas to story on: He could write about a sea voyage to hunt whales that goes to failure; but he could not get past the first line, "Call me Starbuck." It made him crave coffee.
And he wondered about a book set in the American South; but maybe it would be a p.r. failure if he used the n-word in it. Besides, who cares about teenagers that don't fit in? Well, he had ideas galore! Same for one about a screwed-up candyass who got kicked out of boarding school and hung around The Big Apple.
For example, he could write about a Southern family gone to seed, with an intellectually-challenged son, a Harvard-educated son, and a maid being narrators. Or what about a story about a young and mysterious millionaire on Long Island with a hang-up on a girl named Poppy!
He had a germ of an idea about a guy that deserted from some foreign army, got a girl pregnant, and fled to some place or other, possibly Spain. There he could participate in that idiot adventure, the Running of the Bulls. But he thought that that book was too pregnant with clichés. [Memo to self: rent an apartment in Clichy, and hang out with showgirls until the sun rose.]
However, the literary agent he signed on with gave him a tip for getting started: write something that would sell, like a steamy historical romance or a crime novel. And nothing set in English moors, with a tragic Gothic romantic theme. In effect, a bodice-ripper! Really lay on the sex!
So, in abject reaction to that advice, Buford continued to study Russian intensely. He could at least write the Great Un-American Novel.
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