REVIEWED BY A. E. WEISGERBER
The Expanse Between by Lee L. Krecklow| Winter Goose Publishing, 2017 | ISBN: 978-1941058619 | 239 pages
This impressive debut novel from Wisconsinite Lee L. Krecklow raises interesting questions about storytelling and privacy rights. The Expanse Between is also a nifty bit of metafiction, questioning the relationship between fiction and reality.
The focus of the story is Thomas Stone, a washed-up writer whose early success was never duplicated, and who finds himself, over time, lonely, frustrated, and bitterly reclusive. He’s openly rude and dismissive to his most die-hard supporter, an independent bookstore owner. Stone also has misogynistic tendencies.
The novel focuses on Stone’s acerbic appreciation of one particular red-haired damsel in distress. One day, Stone looks out his apartment window and into a neighbor’s, and witnesses his lithesome red-haired neighbor get attacked by her boyfriend.
This triggers memories of unhappy events from Stone’s first marriage, events that provided the thinly-veiled content of his only best seller and fueled his inexorable divorce. His sighting of nearby domestic abuse not only lifts his writer’s block, but also jacks up his craving to gawk at the Pierian Spring his neighborhood muse provides. We learn that Stone “began to wonder about her, this young woman with that beautiful red hair.”
Stone begins watching his neighbor, “the most real thing he knew.” He begins tailing her when she leaves home, even though “he wasn’t a goddamn private investigator.” He does very little to disguise or fictionalize his subject as he writes, and seems unable to imagine what her desires or motivations might be. To fill the gaps of his flaccid imagination, he pays an informer to interact with her and report back every detail. He then escalates things, shaping the actions of the players like a corrupt journalist.
“Control was his,” the narrator shares. Stone “was steering Alex and Gregory in directions he saw fit, no longer riding on the unpredictable waves and whims of two flighty children.”
Stone, thinking “he was in command,” winds up doxxing his subject more than creating a fictional work. His attitude, in a nutshell, might be she didn’t shut her blinds, so she deserves this. As a reader, I’m left pondering privacy rights. Stone might wind up back in the good favor of his literary agent, but at what cost?
Is Facebook Live video streaming the new window, where instead of domestic abusers the audience is let to see every bad decision any stranger they come upon makes? Is the “I saw it, I own it” mentality an ethical one? So Krecklow’s story has this very good sideways approach to discussing morality. Just because a writer CAN tell a story, SHOULD it be told?
California attorney Helen Sedwick’s blog suggests some answers, and she has an excellent post on how to avoid defamation, invasion of privacy, and more. I found myself wondering how Krecklow’s character might possibly get out of being sued. I think Krecklow’s novel is a great success because it brings discussion of privacy rights to the table.
Being from New Jersey, this reminds me how, back in 2006, a local event in the news became a controversial short story in The New Yorker six months later. A college student mysteriously disappeared, and his remains were found a month later in a Pennsylvania landfill. Joyce Carol Oates used the news story as “a point of departure” for her fiction, but didn’t fictionalize it enough, causing anguish for family survivors.
In Krecklow’s novel, the protagonist arouses ire in both his first wife and his neighbor’s future husband for failing to fictionalize enough. Stone’s informant expresses remorse and reluctance to continue spying for the writer, and Stone explodes, saying, “Do you have any idea who I am? … I swear to you that I will get what I want. What I want to happen will happen. You say you don’t want to hurt her? Well believe me when I tell you that the pain I can cause her is far greater than any you might inflict on her today. If you do not listen, I will cause an unremitting pain in her, and I will make her believe you did it.”
No spoilers here, but Stone gets what’s coming.
I like this novel a lot, and add two observations.
1) I was mildly juked by the epilogue. The novel begins with a fictive excerpt from protagonist Stone’s successful novel, Diary of a Dissolving Marriage. Because I read works cold, this immediately put me off track—I was somehow free-associating this work with Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone, and was thinking that it was an excerpt from an existing novel (not too proud to admit it.) Once I realized this Stone being quoted was Krecklow’s, I understood a game was afoot.
2) POV puzzle solved. The novel employs a third-person omniscient point of view, but it changes proximity from chapter-to-chapter. Sometimes it is closest to Stone, and other times it favors his neighbor, Karen, or an informant Stone bribes named Greg. A special challenge I experienced early on was that when the narrator is closest to Stone, Karen is referred to as Alex. I didn’t understand right away that Karen and Alex were one and the same, but once that clicked all was good.
Finally, it’s always fantastic when a work reminds me of Vonnegut. In Breakfast of Champions, there is this moment when Vonnegut himself, the creator of the work and the world, inserts himself into a cocktail lounge scene and he messes around with his nonplussed characters. Vonnegut notes, “here was the thing about my control over the characters I created: I could only guide their movements approximately.”
Krecklow’s protagonist in The Expanse Between learns the hard way that characters, like people, are big animals beyond his control.
The Expanse Between debuts on 9 May 2017 from Winter Goose Publishing. For more information about Lee L. Krecklow, visit his website.
A.E. Weisgerber is Assistant Fiction Editor at Pithead Chapel, and a Reynolds Journalism Fellow at Kent State University. Her recent fiction has/will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Structo Magazine, The Collapsar, DIAGRAM, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska Star, Alternating Current, and The Review Review. She’s a current nominee for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and The Pushcart Prize. She keeps information current at http://anneweisgerber.com
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