Corrections or additions?
This column was prepared for the July 23, 2003 issue of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Richard K. Rein: Charlotte’s Web Revisited
Cobwebs cleared, literally and figuratively, our
hero writer bore down on the keyboard, seriously contemplating the
idle proposition that had presented itself one year ago to the day:
That he would produce a short story suitable for the annual fiction
showcase published by that Route 1 newspaper.
He had thought about it a year ago, and read a few lines aloud in
front of the metaphorical campfire that gathers once a week or so
at the back of the newspaper. People had liked the idea, they said,
but of course they were mostly being polite — what else would
they say. Still, he was emboldened by a few critical comments that
suggested the project was worthy of serious thought and he was
by the sheer audacity of the plot line:
from heart disease) disappears during a week of R & R on a small
island and is finally declared dead despite a futile search for the
body (heart attack, the authorities conclude, suffered during a
outing in shark-infested waters). Back in the states his publishing
empire is taken over by a trio of former assistants who battle each
other for the lead position.
Meanwhile, an ambitious young reporter — our writer hero’s hero
— discovers that the departed — but not so dearly departed
— editor may have had major reasons for getting lost at that
moment in his sorry life. Moreover, the reporter discovers, the
of an invisible hand seem visible at the newspaper. Could the editor
have faked his death and could one of the trio of former assistants
be in cahoots with him to deceive and defraud various creditors? And
if so, which one?
The best part of the plot was how close to the truth it cut. The
former Route 1 editor had disappeared in very similar circumstances.
That memorial service for the old man should have raised some eyebrows
— held on the cheap at the American Legion hall instead of at,
say, the Princeton University Chapel, as you might have expected.
And the guy’s two sons — remember them exchanging knowing glances
at several points during the service and then breaking into crocodile
tears as if on cue?
It had ended up in the hands of the suits from the newspaper chain.
They were pleasant enough fellows, and for the most part the staff
seemed to appreciate them and their management style. Finally there
was real leadership at the Route 1 News, with meetings and —
— praise and encouragement for jobs well done. For a while they
were giving out awards for the best picture captions in each issue,
but that was discontinued when the caption writers said they would
rather just write the damn things and not worry whether or not they
were particularly good or bad.
The best thing about the suits was that they never read the stories
in the paper, and they certainly never read the fiction. Our writer
knew that he would be able to slip in chapters of his forthcoming
novel without anyone realizing how close it was to a roman a clef.
Yes, our hero bore down at the keyboard. Forget short story, think
novel. It was not beyond the realm of the Route 1 fiction issue. That
e.e. cummings — or whiting or whatever — had three chapters
of a novel printed in successive years and reportedly had enough in
the bank to carry him (or her) into the next decade. Linda Aldrich
Teichmann submitted a short piece for the 2003 fiction issue but
that she also had a complete novel, just sitting in a drawer! John
Symons, a contributor to the Fiction Issue since the beginning, noted
that he, too, had a novel in the works.
A novel, that was it. Too soon, of course, to think about movie rights
(but if pressed our writer could come up with a short list of movie
stars who should be given a crack at this script). Too soon. Now was
the time to think about that all important opening sentence —
the one that would grab them and hold them and propel them into a
frenzy of page-turning.
He thought back to that seminal moment of a year past, when he was
transfixed by a spider efficiently weaving a web across the window.
There was a back and forth rhythm that had intrigued him. In fact,
while he had named the spider Charlotte, he referred to it alternately
as he and she. Our writer scanned his mind for an opening that would
have a certain intrigue built on uncertainty. Instead of opening the
novel in Princeton he would open in the Caribbean. Instead of
on the editor, he would focus on the search — the alleged search
— for the poor lost soul (lost, perhaps, in more ways than one).
That was it. He hunkered down at the keyboard, imagined high seas
rising and falling around him, and began to type furiously:
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