P L O T # 7, E X P L A N A T I O N # 1
BY GIOVANNI ALTAMIRA
Cass Wesley dies like this. A late-night collision at a flashing stoplight. A massive sack of birdseed in the backseat of the car propels her into the deployed air-bag. She's knocked unconscious by the forward rush of her body. She begins to suffocate. Her passenger, Sally Prowling, is knocked out by the shock of her wrist snapping. When Sally awakes, Cass is dead.
The other driver is an old man, Sal Quantao. He is in his late-Eighties, a retired banker, he's grown his hair long and wears granny-glasses. He drives a Plymouth. He's a WWII veteran who lost his wife to a club-footed man as he liberated concentration camps and fell in love with a prisoner who had just had her hair shaved down, a 19-year-old Polish Jew named Saskia. After the war, Sal returned to New York, expecting to announce that he had found a new love, that the time away had changed him so much that he couldn't spend the rest of his life with a woman who never knew senseless death. He expected to come home and ask for a divorce, but when he returned he found all the papers waiting for him, his home abandoned, empty except for the contents of his desk and drawers.
He looked at the novel he was writing before he left for training at Fort Dix, the adandoned novel -- a tragi-comedy set in a New Jersey town he created about a 20-something odd jobsman who cures ailing ladies of the misery sandwiched between their lust for life and their romantic reality. It was an erotic tale set in an dualistic universe with an Italian Huck Finn-like protagonist. He never titled it, never finished it, not a work of imagination, non-fictional relating his actual days as a depression-era odd-jobsman and the actual fantasy he had while fixing fences and piping. He moved Saskia into his home and got a job as a bank clerk and worked his way up through the ranks and over the years. He wrote a trilogy of war novels in his spare time, each one similar, a campaign, a liberation, a love, and then a disappointment. Although his life with Saskia was domestic and seemingly affectionate, he felt his love had cooled; he half hoped he could make it out to the Korean Conflict and find a woman to take Saskia's place.
Sal never tried to publish anything. He was wary of upsetting Saskia who would recognize the progression and would become bewildered by his disillusionment. He loved her enough not to let her read the endings. When Saskia suddenly died in the middle 1960s from a common cold he felt liberated. He published his trilogy to commercial success. His novels are done into film and he's suddenly extraordinarily wealthy. He builds a Brutalist home on a hundred acres of woodlands and sets himself up with luxuries he never wanted, if only to spend his money on something. His house is made of concrete on the outside and gold on the inside. He drives a Plymouth around town but has a few sportscars under wraps for driving up North.
One evening he drives to town for cigarettes and at a flashing red he's met by a car waiting at a flashing yellow. He wonders why the car's stopped at the yellow, stopped at the caution, and he figures something must be wrong, or perhaps they're just confused, and so he moves ahead and just as he begins the other car accelerates and they crash and everyone slams into their air-bags. This is Sal's first accident and the shock of the air-bag knocks him out. A few minutes later he's entirely unharmed. He gets out of his car and finds that Cass is dead and Sally is passed out. Eventually a car comes and the driver has a cellular phone and calls an ambulance and everyone is whisked away to the hospital.
What's this mean? You've got an old guy who once dreamed of being a lover then became a hero and fell for a liberated prisoner. A novelist who eventually is disillusioned with his lover and again works it out in fiction. Once his reality is gone (Saskia) his fantasy is unleashed and thrown into the popular dreamscape, the movie screen. Makes money and lives in a Brutalist house, all concrete with a tongue that ramps up to the garage, a drab corporate federalist building, but inside it's perfectly cozy and warm. Concrete encrusted gold and all it symbolizes. Drives a Plymouth for the association with the Pilgrims. Her friends are brought to the new world of thinking about mortality.
On the other hand, the passenger in the wreck, Cass' friend Sally, her family never dies. Not one of them has died. All grandparents intact. The accident is the closest she's come to dying. She feels immortal. Her survival of the accident is proof. Perhaps as things unfold she can become more and more focused on preserving this immortality. She may become more cautious rather than free-wheeling -- she may keep herself in bed, rarely go out, as Cass' death sinks in she may become more secluded, isolated in preservation of her life -- family members die off.
Alexander Alamo, son of the not-so-legendary country Tex-Mex country singer Gustavo Alamo, a product of a failed marriage, lives with his mother in an apartment complex -- his instinct is the recommended dosage -- he is rational yet imaginative, his impulse is towards seclusion but he fights that off to find himself alone in crowds. He is planning to attend graduate school to study the history of isolationism. He is friends with Otto Otera -- they work together at a restaurant in town -- the Partial, an old old old diner with wooden booths with initials carved into it from 1902. Otto Otera is happy with his situation. He's borderline incoherent, athletic, a free-associator. His impulse is self-critique, dubbing over everything, subtitling everything, masking and translating -- he's always public with everything -- keeps nothing to himself -- Cass was his girlfriend but he denies too much of a commitment.
Then there's Preha Gund, an Indian-American woman who always questions everything, who deals with Cass' death through sex and drink. She has left behind her family. She and her family have disowned one another. A temporary worker living alone.
And Krancey, who is detached and the butt of their jokes, receives them all without remorse.
The action begins at Cass' Wake --