Behind The Curtain

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

This page is best viewed AFTER reading the book “Boy Meets Girl, The End”

Most fiction writers take you to a specific place and/or time in history and show you around, like a time traveling guide with a stack of knowledge and a sense for detail. When someone does this well it makes for a great story, one that everyone (from the writer to the publisher to the reader) appreciates in their own way. I made one of the characters in the book a very descriptive story teller (Cecil, especially in chapters two and four) to appeal to and appease these expectations, but for the story in general, I wanted to do something different – and that’s where my gamble either makes or breaks the book.

I purposefully did not provide a lot of description for the physical world in the story – from where they are to what they look like – to give the readers a more direct opportunity to do this for themselves. We all do it anyway, even when the author offers very specific descriptions; the text is read, then pondered and processed in the mind, always through a particular perspective, which means that the reader’s belief system is still ultimately determining how it pictures (and thus thinks and feels about) the story – no matter how much the author wants it to be seen in a specific way. So, I thought, why not just make that an essential part of the experience right from the beginning? Leave out the descriptive details of who the characters are on the outside, and just focus on what they think and feel. The story could then be guided by the characters’ inner workings, leaving the rest to be interpreted by the reader individually, and maybe – possibly – even drawing attention to the common issues that bind us all together as human beings.

The problem is, after being accustomed to always looking for what the author is directly presenting, the reader may not catch the other things going on beneath the surface. “People read books to escape, not think” as some people have told me – but I disagree that a choice has to be made between these two, and I know I’m not alone. So for this story, I only gave a few “exterior” details (that the story demanded to provide a necessary structure to build on), but I kept them to the bare minimum. Here then is some insight into what was not overtly stated in the text:

  • The story takes place in a city, and there are trips around the city to different neighborhoods and landmarks (like the river, the park and the hospital) but no other geographical information is given – and no specific region of the world is determined. The book is obviously written in English (which narrows down locations significantly), and as my wife adamantly insisted, there are distinct cultural personalities all through the story; nevertheless, it is not meant to represent one specific city anywhere (and if you check out the influences for the book, you’ll see how this was intentionally designed).
  • There are no computers, no cell phones, no iPods, etc. – no specific advanced technology in general (save for one thing), which allows for a more open-ended interpretation of when the story is taking place in time.
  • The characters are old enough to be out of college, but otherwise no specific ages are given.
  • No one has children (or do they?) or is married (to the disappointment of some), and one of these adults still lives at home – or conversely, only one of these adults still lives at home.

With the usually well-defined characteristics left purposefully obscure, I had the opportunity to give insight into the characters in other ways (which was one of the most exciting and interesting processes as the writer); so while their names are relatively race and culture non-identifying, they are nonetheless loaded with covert meaning:

  • Cecil Adams – Cecil means “blind”, and Adam is “man”, so Cecil Adams is a little play on the concept of the “blind men” of the world. Extra bonus points if you’d heard of this “Cecil Adams” before; “Straight Dope“, indeed.
  • Angela Moore – Angela reads like “angel” (as in how her father and brother see her) but also literally means “messenger of God” (and she does her best to deliver a message to him!); Moore comes from the idea that she always wants “more” from Cecil.
  • Marco Carroll – Marco sounds like “macho” (and comes from Mars, the god of war), and Carroll means (you guessed it) “man.
  • Thomas Folgen – Thomas means “twin” and Folgen is the German verb for “to follow”, so Thomas Folgen is a play on the idea of a “twin” (a “copy” of others, if you will) who follows everyone around and does what they do; I had my own fun playing on the notion of the “Doubting Thomas” persona, with Thomas exclaiming “I can’t believe it!” a lot – but this is was not essential to the plot line.
  • Solomon – Solomon means “peace” (and of course the Old Testament’s King Solomon was the “wise” one).
  • Linda – Linda is a Spanish (feminine) adjective meaning “beautiful”.
  • Aaron – Aaron means “enlightened” or “mountain of strength“, which alludes to his overall physical size and personality, but can also be interpreted in many other ways (not all of which are sex-related, mind you).
  • Asher – Asher means “happy”, and Asher was also a son of Jacob (in the Old Testament) that was promised a life blessed with abundance (which alludes to the problems at the heart of his relationship with his older step brother Cecil).
  • René – René means “reborn or born again”, or alternately “peace”, both of which apply to this character’s place in the story – and if you go back to the very beginning of the the book, you’ll see that the story is dedicated to “him”.

 

Those are then some of the more specific games played with the language in the story – now for some of the meta aspects…

The book begins and ends with dreams, which allude to the possibility that the entire story is allegorical. Consider the opening line: “It always started the same way,” which leads to Angela’s recounting of her recurring nightmares involving Cecil, but could also read like a play on the phrase “Once upon a time, in a land far far away…” The dream imagery continues in this classic frame of reference, describing how Cecil and Angela meet and fall in love. The title of the book itself is a pun related to this too, referencing the most popular form of entertainment (in literature and movies), the fairy tale-esque romantic comedy-drama (boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, something drives them apart, then they magically get back together and live happily ever after, the end); in this story I’ve taken out the highly predictable (and completely expected) standard plot lines and replaced them with an “alternative” universe of events, and then bypassed the typical build up of the story line by jumping in close to the end. This allowed for subtle clues to be introduced in the dreams at the beginning, like Angela’s attempt to “save” Cecil when he is “under water”, her confrontation with his past through his father’s ghost, and the dramatic scene in the hospital where she feels Cecil is pulling her into a “bottomless pit”. But the biggest obscured plot detail of all was the “dark red” baby that the other Angela is holding that shares her same heartbeat; with that imagery in mind, I would ask that you consider rereading the break up scene in chapter nine to see if it offers a new perspective on Angela’s motives.

Lastly, going all the way back to the Preface, there’s another glimpse into what was going on in Cecil’s mind at the very end of his life, and it may tie the whole story together a little tighter in context. And just for fun (if you haven’t already), go ALL the way back to the very first pages of the book, and you’ll see that there were little teases applied even to the more generic sections of the book.

Continuing with the esoteric aspects of the story, imagine that the entire story could possibly be Cecil’s attempt to resolve his issues before he passes on – in the form of a dream-like parable (a la “Jacob’s Ladder”, one of the biggest influences on this book), starring all the most important people in his life, being played out in his mind while he lies dying. Each friend or family member could represent a distinct aspect of Cecil’s personality, like the people in our dreams often do in our actual nightly adventures. For example, Marco could easily be Cecil’s “id”, fighting and cussing his way through life (and causing a lot of problems along the way) – while Linda is the embodiment of his “super-ego”, the voice that cajoles him into making the changes he needs to (but doesn’t want to) – all influenced by Cecil’s history with them and filtered through his subconscious. Then it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that the horror of the attack on Cecil and the damage the fire did was metaphorical as well as literal (like his “cocoon” of bandages preparing him for the next stage), burning away the old to be reborn (“René”) like the phoenix rising from the ashes.

The story of course could also be read as taking place in the time frame it provides (opening in the hospital, flashing back to the beginning of Cecil and Angela’s relationship and working all the way back up to the present time in the hospital again), but with characters that are insightfully archetypal (especially considering the etymologies of the names). In this way, the everyman character that Cecil represents seems to have met his match in the liberation-from-traditional-roles character that Linda represents – equally with Angela as the Everywoman, pursuing her goals of getting married and having children with the adamancy that was instilled in her by her family (and society at large). Marco is then the epitome of the macho man, self-focused and violently aggressive, and desperately masking his need for love and acceptance, Thomas is the representative “sheeple” of the group, Solomon the enlightened peacekeeper, and Aaron is the male Linda, finding his own way beyond the limitations imposed on him by the rest of society. All of the characters though, regardless of how archetypical they might be, are not meant to fit neatly into the traditional protagonist/antagonist roles: Marco may be a macho jerk, but he’s loyal to his friends; Linda may be socially progressive, but she is ultimately not that much different from the more traditional Angela in that having a baby is the most important thing in life for her – even if it means ending up with with a guy that doesn’t seem right for her at all – and on and on. Each of these characters has something positive to offer, and something negative they need to work on – just like all of us in “real” life.

With that being said, I would like to make one final comment about this story – and that is that it is not about me. I am not Cecil and Cecil is not me, and while I completely understand how tempting it is to assume this (since I do this very same thing with authors and actors as well – especially if I know them), it is simply not how this project was done. I did use a couple of stories from my own life in the book, for the only reason that they are good stories (what can I say, I’ve lived an interesting life!), and I also took events from the world around me and fictionalized them as well; but the rest is strictly from my imagination, as it should be. I’ll let you have fun deciding which was which…

And so, based on the collection of information presented here, I hope it is clearer now that there is much more to derive from this multilayered story than is apparent at first. I have always been one to look under the surfaces of life, enjoying the discovery of what was hidden away (or hidden in plain sight), playing records backwards and replaying movie scenes and pondering stories and koans and riddles for hours to figure out what the underlying messages were – and the name ZENAHORA reflects this perspective. This book was my first attempt to make my own literary creation in this discordian-esque tone, and I sincerely hope it was as positive an experience for you as it was for me.

peace,
Gregory Tkac
July 28, 2011 (updated February 16, 2013)