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Relief novelists


NEW ORLEANS -- I'm trying to finish my novel about the end of the world and I'm having as much trouble as God must have had finishing the world in the first place.

The beginning was easy: all uncharted territory, full steam ahead, imagination at play. The middle wasn't so easy because the beginning stood there, demanding some continuity if not responsibility from what came after.

The difficulties increased exponentially the farther I wrote. As I grew closer to the end, the complexity of relations between my own inventions became so great I feared that I would be devoured by my own characters.

I now stand within shouting distance of the end and the landscape is trembling and there are trumpets and I can't turn without running into some loose person or dangling scene screaming What About Me? What About Me? You left me dying, hanging, suspended 150 pages ago!

This is the time when the temptation is great to kill all the minor personages, all those pesky hangers-on. Vladimir Nabokov used to relish offing these types. But I'm more charitable: I am fond of them because I made them.

Perhaps the time has come to take up my friend Elinor Nauen's idea of the Relief Novelist. What we need, she said, is a relief writer who can come in like a relief pitcher in the late innings and take over. The relief novelist would close up the gaps, direct unfinished destinies, close wounds and smooth the way for a sequel.

Is there a relief novelist in the house?

The trouble is that such a creature would have to be a critic as well as a writer. And if you think that writers have trouble ending things, critics are a thousand times worse. Which is why the good ones deal mostly with the dead, who are already finished. Critics hate living writers because they go on instead of sitting still for the autopsy. So if you bring in a critic to be a relief novelist he'll start by killing you, the author.

No, there is no solution: I have to finish the book myself, if it kills me.

Andrei Codrescu is writing a novel about the Messiah in New Orleans.

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