A Novel Called “Love Traffic”

Love Traffic
The first edition of my self-publish novel, Love Traffic

I probably wouldn’t have guessed the year right without looking at the inside cover, but in 2006 I finished a novel and released it to the world on lulu.com, a print-on-demand website. I had one copy printed for myself. Soon after I was holding my “first book” in my hands. It didn’t look as professional as a Penguin paperback or even as good as your average local small press trade paperback, but it was close. I mean, it was a book and my words were in it. People could hold it in their hands and read the story I’d written, if they bought the book.

But why would they buy it? It was hard to imagine someone browsing through lulu.com for a book to buy. If people had $10 and wanted to buy a book, they would be on Amazon, or at their local bookstore, not on the website full of self-published novels.

Indeed, after a while–six months, a year, I can’t remember–no copies of the book had been sold. I occasionally took a look at the copy I had received and I wasn’t happy with the layout. The main issue was that the type was quite small. The indentations were also too large.  I must have also thought the cover was a little cheesy (now I like it), because I redesigned it. I also wanted to make a few changes to the text. Just a few. I wasn’t thinking at the time of rewriting it. I’d already worked on it for two or three years while teaching full-time.

When I was finished with the new look, I uploaded the documents to Lulu and “demanded” a copy of the new version, which was larger: 8 1/2″ x 5 3/8″,  whereas the first “edition” was 6 7/8″4 1/4″ x The new version looked a little better than the first. Mainly, though, it was just different. Both felt pretty good to hold in my hand.

Back cover of first edition of Love Traffic
Back cover of first edition of Love Traffic. The second paragraph is quite frank about the theme of shyness, which the novel itself evades.

After admiring it for a couple of weeks, I gave the second “edition” to a writer buddy. He congratulated me on finishing a novel. He said that it might not be my best work, but that there was a section that he loved. I think he said that it was “like something out of Dostoevsky”.

The part he liked was actually a flashback to a couple of years prior to the main timeline of the novel, when the main character, Warren, goes to stay with his parents for a few days at the end of his university semester. He hasn’t seen them in half a year. During that time he started to become very self-conscious in social situations. When he gets home, he’s embarrassed to discover that he can’t look his parents or younger sister in the eye without blushing. He doesn’t know why he is like this and he’s too embarrassed to mention it to anyone. His family has noticed a change in him, but they don’t discuss it either. He returns to school. Very gradually, over the next couple of years, his self-consciousness lessens.

The novel begins a few years after the worst of his “self-consciouness attacks”, as he discovers online dating sites. He’s is understandably drawn to this safe method of “meeting” people. Although he doesn’t get to know many women in his real life, he ends up being able to have a few intense relationships virtually. The question that I wanted to hover over most of the novel was whether online dating would draw him further from or closer to the real world.

Inside Title Page of Love Traffic
I was reading Lawrence as I was finishing the novel. I thought this quote showed the timelessness of the themes in my story, which is firmly set in the early 2000s.

Every year or so I pick it up and read a few pages. Often, I find a typo, in which case I dog-ear the page for future reference, just in case I decide to do something else with it. Sometimes I think that I should throw it away; other times I wonder if I should try again to get it published. I had sent it to a few publishers and agents before resorting to self-publishing, but I received only form rejections, except for one agent, who, in response to the synopsis in my cover letter, wrote something like, “It sounds like quite an inventive tale”, before adding that he wasn’t interested in reading it. He was actually the agent of a friend of mine, a woman who wrote a well-received novel at about that time. I didn’t mention that I knew her. For various reasons I’m glad to have resisted that temptation.

I have been thinking about the novel more over the past year. I must admit that I haven’t sat down and re-read it from start to finish, but when I dip into it here and there, I’m not embarrassed by the writing–although there have been moments in the past when I’ve been tempted to throw away my copy and delete the files. Honestly, my destructive impulse probably came out of my frustration at not getting the novel published, rather than dissatisfaction with the novel. Now, older and a little less fiery than I used to be I have different feelings about it. The novel was started before my daughter was born and finished, I reckon, near the birth of my son. Even then, it was dealing with the types of experiences that were in my past–finishing university, finding your first job, getting into your first adult relationship. Now, the period in which I worked on the novel is also well behind me. It almost feels like the work of a different person, definitely a younger one. Perhaps this is why I finally feel slightly generous toward it.

I am trying to decide the best way to republish the novel. I could put it back on Lulu; I could put it up here, chapter by chapter; I could send it out again to publishers (just to see what would happen). I’m not sure yet how I will do it, but my gut feeling at the moment, even literally at this moment, is that sharing the novel in some way is the right decision. The story is bleak and out of necessity open-ended, but it’s a pretty honest piece of art that I worked hard at. To keep it hidden–and I know this sounds a little dramatic–feels like keeping a part of myself hidden.

It’s not entirely a coincidence that the scene that my friend liked was, loosely speaking, a flashback. The novel came out of my own experience. At the time of writing, I was uneasy about this. Given how uneasy, it is funny how feebly I attempted to hide the autobiographical elements–by using masks and transformations and splitting up personalities. Mainly, though, my method for hiding the personal stuff was to avoid the most painful truths–one of which was excruciating shyness. That is why the most autobiographical part of this book, the Dostoyevskian part, was stuffed into the backstory.

It is played down, but, interestingly, it is there. It isn’t integral to the plot, but I suppose I needed to put it into words. I suspect my friend, who is older and gentler than I, sensed my need for cathartic purging, which is why he mentioned that part of the book, to show that he had read and felt it.

I didn’t sit down today knowing that I would get into this theme (isn’t that a handy euphemism for “the dark shadow of my childhood”), but I find it interesting that I’ve ended up here. Maybe that is why I have a soft spot for a novel that on the surface seems to be about a girl crazy guy who among other life mistakes falls for a porn star (that part’s not autobiographical, honestly). Shyness was the great monster in my life when I was younger. Morrissey turned shyness into a catchy tune, but I think it’s hard to make a gripping novel out of it. Still, I would like to write about it more. I think I’m almost beyond the stage of being embarrassed about being shy, which I always found to be as debilitating as shyness itself, half of the vicious circle. I think it has been tackled, but usually using subterfuge, metaphor, switcheroo. I’ve wondered if shyness isn’t largely what Kafka is writing about, if its not the thing about Hamlet that we struggle to put our finger on, the same for Holden Caufield. Something to ponder further another day.

 Love Traffic wasn’t the first novel I finished–that was A Jar of Minnows, my MA thesis–but I held it in my hand in the from of a book, something meant to be read, by others. I’ve said “held it in my hand” three times now. It must be important. It did–it does–feel good in my hand. And the pages I re-read hold my interest. I can’t help but wonder if they would hold anyone else’s.

A Random Page of Love Traffic
A randomly opened page of Love Traffic. Not bad (but two little typos).
Advertisements
A Novel Called “Love Traffic”

A Sex Scene I’ll Probably Cut

I wrote a sex scene today for the novel I’m working on. I’ve never written a sex scene that didn’t make me cringe. I’ve always edited them out of the final draft. This one probably won’t make the cut either, but I’ll leave it here as an example of something you write with the niggling fear (every sentence of the way) that it is going to be embarrassingly bad.

Cue the jazz …

####

Now the girl, age of his students, addresses him nervously in French in front of everyone. “Are you a student? Which university?”

This is not just friendly conversation. She crossed the room straight to him, thought of something to say. Sweet girl. Young. So young she can’t tell ages. The Steadicam guru and the stylist are watching, not quite holding back incredulous looks. Edward is conflicted. If only the moral chorus were not watching. If only the boss, the boss were not right there, looking the most incredulous of all, frowning. And Edward wondering if it was his fault. Had his desire travelled through his lens and done something to the girl? Touched her, spoke to her?

He said, “Oh I’m not a student,” smiling.

“But which university?” asked the girl, the model, standing before him, still wearing nothing but expensive underwear.

“McGill,” he said, noticing the boss’s eyes darting, lips about to break open. “But it’s been a long time since I was a student.” The boss nodded at this, deeply, and Ed turned to see if the model had seen.

But the girl was just looking through him, confused. “Oh,” she said.

The moment was gone. He couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed, even if nothing would have ever “happened”. Ever since he had started teaching he had stopped flirting with young women.

He wondered if the producer, Lana, wasn’t a bit of a hypocrite. She’d nodded her head with such condemnation when she’d noticed the connection between Ed and the model—because, presumably, of their age difference—and yet, Lana was the one who had recruited the girl and was now going to put pictures and video of her, underwear clad, on the internet. Where was the protective impulse when she’d had that idea? Was having a conversation with 38 year-old Ed really a greater risk to the apparently impressionable young woman than being viewable for life in her underwear on the world wide web? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps neither was a such a horrible happening. Perhaps both were.

Nonetheless, he drove back to the office feeling chastised and a little ashamed. It somewhat paralyzed his thought processes.

Kate was there when he arrived and asked him about the shoot. He grumbled about working for free. And the girl was pretty young, he said. Not that young, but young, a university student, he assumed. “But, yeah, it felt a little weird. I’m not sure I would do it again. I’m not sure.” He sounded sort of tired as he said it. He pretended to be distracted by his gear.

“Do you have the footage still?” she asked.

“We transferred it there,” he said.

He wasn’t quite answering the question. She waited for him to add something. Finally, he met her gaze, but just for a second. He opened his camera bag and started to pull out all the batteries and the charger.

“It was just one girl?” Kate asked.

“Yeah. It was for a lingerie store. She was sort of walking around looking at stuff and trying it on. That was the concept.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah, it should look pretty good.”

“I’d like to see the footage,” she said.

He put a battery back in the camera and cued up one of first shots. Kate took the camera from him, not quite grabbing it but almost. When the first clip was finished, she clicked to the next.

“She’s pretty,” she said.

She looked through the rest of the files, watching the best ones, skipping past others. Ed watched over her shoulder.

“That’s a good shot.”

“Yeah.”

“Nice light.”

“Yeah.”

“I want that bra.”

“Put it on your birthday list.”

She held the camera out so he could take it. “You must be horny,” she said.

“Ha,” he said, removing the battery and dropping the camera into the cushioned bag.

“What? Don’t be embarrassed.”

“I’m not embarrassed.”

She left the room without looking at him. “I’m not even looking at you and I can feel you blushing,” she said in a raised voice. She went back to her office, as if there was something she had to do there. There was a clump of grapes on a plate on her desk. She twisted one from the vine and popped it into her mouth. He was horny. She could tell. That restless embarrassment that hung over him. Of course, the girl had stirred it up in him but so what. She knew he found her sexy. She knew, she felt it. She went back down to his office. He was standing in the middle of the room, frowning at the screen on the back of the camera. The battery had been out a minute ago, now it was back in.

“I’m formatting the cards,” he said. “I forgot to.”

She went up and stood in front of him, facing him, really close, and when he looked at her he saw her eyes gazing into his as if they were connected by an invisible stream that flowed out of his right pupil into her left and out of her right into his left, or something like that.

A kiss occurred, a first, exploratory touch. As their lips came apart he put his hand on her breast and she pushed her hips against him. They kissed again, longer. He moved his hand and lightly touched her temple and then ran his fingers through her hair. She pulled back and tugged at his buckle.

They went over to her sofa and undressed. She sat down and put his penis in her mouth and ran her lips along it once. She licked the end of it and then looked up at him and pulled downward on his hips. He kissed her lips, her breasts and, kneeling on the floor, ran his tongue along the fold of her vulva and slid his tongue in deeper in search of her clitoris.

They had been attracted to one another for so long that neither of them wanted to take their time–not now. She cupped her hands under his jaw and gently pulled him upward. Soon he was crouched over her, sliding into her. They both smiled with relief. Kate even chuckled as her eyelids closed and she turned her head to the side.

The first wave of pleasure passed. Edward lifted his head and took a breath. He moved slowly inside of Kate. “That’s too good,” he said. The words had just come out of his throat when he realized that his penis was bare and that an orgasm might sneak up on him any second. Preemptively he pulled his penis from her vagina. She looked at him, confused.

“I’m so used to not wearing a condom,” he said. “I completely forgot.”

“I’m on the pill,” she told him, as if it were a fact for him to do with as he pleased.

Lowering his hips, he slid the wet tip of his penis through her labium to the edge of her opening. Pleasure flowed up his erection, through his testicles, into his stomach, his flesh, his thoughts. “Is it okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, inhaling. And then he entered her fully and they started to bring their hips together in unison like vigorous dancers.

He cried out when he came. It was the first time he’d ever done that. They embraced, limply and he rolled to the side, as far as he could on the narrow couch, so that he was half atop her, half beside. He rested his head on her heart and held her right breast with his left hand. He was not crying, but he almost felt as if he was and she felt it too. She stroked his hair and he fell asleep.

After that she loved him, or she could have, if she’d let herself, but she didn’t want to harm his family. She had a feeling that the complications were insurmountable. She did not want to have to deal with the guilt, not that much. She had yet to weigh the guilt she had already earned. And she could only guess how much guilt he would feel and how he would cope with it.

##and then, the next day, the follow-up##

If they had used a condom, he might not have confessed–that’s what he told himself–but under the circumstances he had to. There would be no good time until that night, but he could still start to behave responsibly and fix the situation immediately.

He went to the clinic. While in the waiting room, he hardly moved. He was focused on his meeting with the doctor. If there was anything in the world the he should do right now it was get tested. As embarrassing as it might be, he had to do it.

His number appeared and he walked down the hall to Salle 3 and took a seat on the “bed”. What seemed like five minutes later, but was only two, a woman came in and introduced herself. For two seconds he hoped that she was the nurse and that he would not have to tell her anything, but she said her name was Dr. Charboneau. She was about his age, rather attractive and rather stern. She spoke to him in French and asked him what the problem was. How would he say this, breaking it down into manageable sentences with intermediate vocabulary?

“I have a wife?”

The doctor squinted at him.

“But I had sexual relations with another woman.”

The doctor’s gaze remained fixed. Her lips were as still as stone.

“We did not use a ‘condom’.” He did not know the word in French.

“‘Préservatif’.”

“Oui, préservatif.”

Without comment, or explicit judgment, she sent him off with a form for a blood test. He asked if she would only contact him if one of the tests was positive. “No,” she had said. “I imagine you would like to know either way.” He said, “Yes,” in a way that was supposed to be humorously self-deprecating. She smiled ever, ever, ever so slightly, and wished him a good day.

He went upstairs to the lab, where the waiting room was the worst part. The nurses were quick once he was in their hands. After, he had to hurry on his bicycle to the daycare. It did not close for a couple of hours, but he usually picked the girls up at four and he didn’t want to keep them waiting. Even more than usual, he was worried about falling short on the performance of his fatherly duties. Indeed, Katherine noticed that he was later than usual.

“I thought you weren’t coming,” she said, as he helped her on with her coat. “You’re always here before Marianne leaves.” And Marianne had already left.

He took them to the park and tried to play with them more lovingly and pedagogically than usual. And then they went to the grocery store, and then they walked slowly home, and the girls played in front of the TV as he made supper, chopping and stirring, and waiting for the sound of the front door.

A Sex Scene I’ll Probably Cut

I Don’t Want to “fail better”

A few minutes ago I was on the verge of writing a different sort of post than this. I was going to write about the number of rejections I’ve been getting from literary magazines. I would have included a screenshot of my Submittable account, which shows the twenty-four submissions I’ve made in the past few years and the word “declined” beside all but the two most recent, which are still under consideration. I was going to laugh it off and maybe speculate about whether or not I should give up writing because I just don’t have the natural talent for it. But just as I was about to take the screenshot, I thought, This is really pathetic. I felt a prick of self-respect or reason or something and almost started to blush at the idea that I was on the verge of pseudo-celebrating my own failure.

Perhaps there is a time and place for that kind of attitude, but you also have to take yourself seriously. If you’re just laughing about your failures, you’re not learning from them, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to actually develop and start to write for a real audience, even if that audience doesn’t exist yet.

For me, laughing off failure is a kind of perverse acceptance that has left me feeling as though I’m on the sidelines, out of the real game. I took up residence in the land of failure. I even started to write for the land of failure. In this land there are no real readers, no opinions, no ears, no hearts, no hope. It’s a ghost land.

Think about how you might call across a field to someone who might hear you. Compare that to calling across a field to someone whom you know is out of the range of your voice. One voice is full of urgency and power, the other is not. In the land of failure you write like the person who is calling to no one.

Becoming stuck in the land of failure is not entirely the writer’s fault. It’s an occupational hazard. There are not enough readers for all of the writers. There are not enough spots on the team. Not enough jobs for all of the applicants. And yet one goes on writing–but into a void, where the words reach no one. They are never stress-tested, fact-checked, or refuted. They exist in their own la-la land where irrelevance and insignificance can persist without any reality-check.

If I were to read through my texts that received twenty-two rejections on Submittable, and if I were unflinchingly honest, I think I would find many examples of these land of failure characteristics, which are sometimes the result of self-indulgence but more often laziness (which is probably at the root of self-indulgence anyway). The tendency for land of failure writing to have these weaknesses is somewhat understandable. To put it in psychology-textbook terms, there is no reward for the artistic effort when there is no reader, whether from pay or from praise.

But looking at the reasons why writing is a challenging occupation is not all that productive. It might be true that those writers who have a readership are, indeed, fortunate to have the motivating rewards that come with a readership, but envying them doesn’t help me write better. Similarly, while it could be helpful to realize when I’m in the land of failure, spending too much time looking around, half-admiring it and painting it, only prolongs the amount time I spend there. I really just have to pack up and move back over to where the action is and elbow my way back into the game, cheesy metaphors and all.

The Samuel Beckett quote “fail better” is often used to inspire people to be more determined, and I have consciously espoused it a few times myself, but looking at it now I wonder if it’s such good advice. I always thought of it as ironic and humorous, which is probably why it appealed to me. It laughs off failure. Perhaps, there are times when it’s constructive to laugh off the current failure, but then you have to get serious. Maybe instead of “Try[ing] again. Fail[ing] again. Fail[ing] better”, I should “Do it again. Do it better. Succeed.”

But I’m making myself cringe with these inspirational quotes and I’ve spent enough time writing about how I should be writing. I think now it’s time to go and do it.

I Don’t Want to “fail better”

Current First Chapter of New Thing

This is what I have as the first chapter of my current novel-in-progress. I’ll come back to it again–and again, but at the moment I’m building a little ways further of the trail. These are the pages I always see, though, when I first open the document. 

Ed went up to the door with thin notebook in his hand. The man who answered was a few inches shorter than Edward. Wisps of pepper hair had been stretched neatly across the top of his head. He wore a white short-sleeved t-shirt, tucked into tightly belted pants.

“Calvin?”

“Yes.” He took a quick look at Edward and invited him in. The apartment was nearly empty. Edward was led into a room with a sliding glass door that opened onto a porch and a tiny yard. Plastic boxes were stacked in one corner. In another a small desk held with a monitor and keyboard. The computer tower sat on the floor.

“So, Edward,” Calvin said. “How long have you been making videos?”

He kept his answer simple: “Three years.” He tried to read Calvin’s reaction, but it was a fairly inscrutable nod.

Calvin pressed his fingertips together and cast his eyes toward the floor. “I wanted to speak with you about an idea. I’ve been thinking of starting a Youtube channel about yoga. I would be in the videos. I would put a new one out each weekday maybe. They would be short, just a pose or asana each day. Something like that. What do you think?”

Calvin didn’t strike Edward as a particularly engaging presenter, and there were probably already a few hundred yoga channels on Youtube, maybe thousands. “I think it’s a pretty good idea, sure, but there is probably a lot of competition.”

Calvin downplayed the competition. Yoga was very popular and there were a lot of people willing to watch a video that had some intelligent substance to it, not just pretty people wearing trendy tight clothes. Edward politely conceded the point.

The fingers came together again and Calvin pondered the parquet floor. “Okay, Edward. Let me ask you: would do you think about partnering with me on this? You would do the production. I would do the content and I’d be willing to split the revenue fifty-fifty. Of course, there won’t be a lot at first, but if we stick with it, I think we could really have something. Is that something you would be interested in? What do you think?”

Edward opened his mouth to speak, although he still had not found words that were both polite and honest.

Calvin jumped in again: “Obviously, we wouldn’t get together every day. We’d film ten or so episodes at a time and then put them out each day.”

“It’d probably be more like five,” said Edward. “It takes longer than most people think, especially if there are just two of us.”

“Okay, five, but we wouldn’t have to get together every day. What do you think?”

Edward straightened his spine and rocked to the side. “Ahhhhhhhh, I don’t think I would do it as a partner, but I would certainly do it and charge you a day rate.”

Calvin looked as if he’d just had his heart broken. Edward found the reaction excessive. A few moments earlier he’d found Calvin to be naïve and slightly pitiable. Now he began to dislike him.

“What’s your day rate?” Calvin asked.

Edward knew that Calvin would be surprised and disappointed, but he answered with a certain amount of pleasure because he was eager to let Calvin know how much his services were worth. “For a regular kit of equipment, it’s $400 a day.”

Calvin’s eyebrows registered his amazement and incredulity. He looked out the window.

“So we could do only a week of shows for $400. That’s only about eight minutes of video,” he added, as if the math would reveal the extravagance of Edward’s prices.

“That’s only for shooting,” said Edward. “There would also be editing.”

Calvin laughed a little. “How much do you suppose for the editing?” he asked with an amused smiled.

“You have to cut the footage together. Add an intro, I imagine, music, render it out, upload. It would be more work to make the first one and then it would go a little faster for the others. I would have to think about it more, but let’s say the first five episodes would take two to three days to put together, say 20 hours, maybe more. The next weeks a little less.”

“What’s your hourly rate?”

“I think it’s about the best you’ll find. My expenses are much less when I’m at home editing. For a recurring job like this, I could do it for $25 per hour.”

“So the first five shows would cost me how much, roughly?”

“Four hundred plus twenty-five times 20. That’s four hundred plus five hundred. Nine hundred.”

“Oof, oh my god. How long is it going to take me to make nine hundred dollars on Youtube? That’s the question.”

It wasn’t really a question for Edward, but he had an answer. “Realistically? Ten years. Five to twenty years.”

“No, no, no,” said Calvin. “I know it won’t take that long. But still, I guess it looks like I’m going to be working with a student. It won’t be the same level of equipment, but you have to start somewhere, right?” He looked directly at Edward. It was a challenge, perhaps a bluff, but still a challenge. Could Edward let the job slip into the hands of “a student”?

“There’s a lot of stuff on Youtube that looks pretty crappy and gets millions of hits,” he acknowledged.

“That’s the thing, Edward. That’s the thing. I didn’t want to do something that looks crappy.”

“Well,” said Ed, bored and eager to leave, “you know my prices now. I’d be happy to work with you if you’re interested.” He slowly made his move toward the front door.

Calvin followed. “I’m interested. I’m interested. I just need to get some content … need to get a pilot, like on TV. Anyway, I guess you’ve made up your mind.”

He didn’t make eye contact again until they shook hands goodbye. Calvin acted as if Ed’s price had wounded him. It was manipulation, Edward could tell, and it usually worked on him, but he was trying to be tougher. He wished Calvin all the best and walked to his car.

Current First Chapter of New Thing

On Flashbacks

There’s a movie in which Chevy Chase plays a wannabe writer. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the entire movie, but there is a scene at the beginning that I will always remember. Chase’s character has given his wife his novel to read. When he asks her what she thinks, she starts to cry and says that it is terrible. She says something like, “In the first five pages there are three flashbacks, two flash forwards and I think there’s even a flash sideways.” Ouch.

I imagine that most writers can sympathize with this scene insofar as handling time can be tricky and we all get ourselves into trouble sometimes. Hopefully, we tidy up the narrative before publication, though.

How tidy should the narrative be, though, in a novel? My own novel currently relies on flashbacks (for lack of a better word). It’s hard for me to keep track of them at this stage of writing, when I still haven’t settled on what exactly my story is, and I have been very tempted lately to restructure the novel to avoid the flashbacks. I would just start it in the past and tell everything in chronological order. That would keep it simpler for me and the reader.

But there are arguments against this approach. First of all, there may be important backstory that doesn’t really fit into the dramatic structure. A character’s childhood is important, but every hero’s story doesn’t have to begin at birth (or before). Sometimes it is better to focus on the main action and use a flashback to fill in a detail as needed.

At first this argument struck me as the most important, but I actually think there is an even better defence of flashbacks. At any moment we are influenced and propelled by something that happened before. Our pasts are alive within us. When a character walks around in this moment, she is also carrying the past inside of her. Backstory is always present and the past and present speak to one another. This I think is why using flashbacks (and again there is no doubt a better term) seems to suit my novel. My character has in some ways re-started his life but his old life hasn’t left him. The challenges that he faces in this phase of his life are heightened because of the significance of his past.

The flashback, looked at in this way, is I suppose related to stream of consciousness. The novel, way more than the film, can capture inner life. One way to evoke this inner life is through stream of consciousness; another is by using clearly demarcated flashbacks. Flashbacks are a little more methodical, but overall, they have the effect of charging the narrative with the significance of the past.

Or so I am hoping, though I am doing my best to avoid flashing sideways.

On Flashbacks