Many ages live side by side in us, only one of them the one we're seen wearing. When May first appeared to me, she was a woman in her seventies, but she quickly showed her past. Nevertheless, when I tried to see her as somehow progressing from youth to age, the stages--or what absorbed me, the states of mind--refused to line up. They were like slides--not in order in the carrel but lying on a table, overlapping, being spread with the hand. By the time I was writing the last episode I was face to face with the girl who was mother to the woman.
While I enjoy novels with a clear path from some secret or trauma in youth to its resolution later, no life in my own fiction (or the work I most love) goes that way, and it isn't a pattern I see in reality. Existence seems to me more like a segmented balloon: here slack, there taut. Or one of those straw wrappers we used to tear into "legs" at the counter in Woolworth's, and twist and then drip water on. The creature would surge (the war is ruining that word), and weave in and out, and inch forward, and finally lie not quite exhausted, still reaching. That's life. That's May's life.
I like the idea of looking this week at un-chronological novels, although these days it may be more of a coup to bring off an utterly, uncompromisingly chronological one, the way Stewart O'Nan did in The Good Wife. That book made me look around for more. I mean more that are that good, that strangely undiscouraging.
We play with time so blithely now, partly I think because we feel aghast and ashamed--in the U.S. at least--in a scary and shameful present. Novels are running the clock backwards and sideways and inside out; people pop in and out of the centuries, the costume-element comes in, etc. We don't want time to run meanly forward and the dead to be dead.
I wish I could say that when I was writing Seven Loves I had a grand theory about time. But I can see that I too have lodged a complaint against the forward march of life. I did want the ages jumbled, as consciousness is mercifully jumbled so we don't see too clearly exactly where things are heading.
Readers and writers, I hope you'll post more of your thoughts about chronology and how fiction treats time. And any other subjects that might have come to mind as you read the book or the interesting and original entries in the Structure contest.