Her uncle Graham certainly adds depth to my new novel, What’s Left.
For one thing, he’s a sign of the generational changes coming to the family and its business. Dimitri’s father, Stavros, never would have approved of Graham’s presence, had fate not intervened.
For another, he brings a type of gentle male to the story, a balance to Dimitri’s golden boy leadership. As a couple, they also help me narrow the number of cousins Cassia has close at hand – readers can handle only so many names, after all – and Dimitri and Graham weren’t about to adopt, from what I see. (Feel free to argue otherwise.)
I’m happy with the way Graham grows into the story. Like others who voluntarily join in the family – Cassia’s father and her aunts Pia and Yin – he’s crucial to its vitality and flavor. With the hint of 0ld-money comfort in his past compounded by a layer of black-sheep distancing, we find him rich in the social skills he applies as the face everybody in town comes to know in the family’s restaurant.
And then there’s the close friendship he and Cassia’s father build, based on their shared love of opera, especially.
Here’s how I portrayed him in an early draft of the novel:
Graham is another story. A year older than Dimitri, he’s far more experienced in the wider world. In settling with us, he no doubt gives up many sophisticated pleasures in exchange for small-town ambience and limitations. It’s not that he exactly needs a job, either. He’s free to work whenever and wherever he wants, or not at all, but here he throws himself into long hours just like the rest of us. If anything, he somehow takes what can be seen as our provincial ways as a personal relief from whatever he’s left behind, or even as some kind of cosmic humor.
I hadn’t thought about this, but about a year after drafting this, I met someone at a weeklong conference who has many of Graham’s comforting qualities, and we’re good friends now. It’s almost eerie.
Which character do you identify with more – Graham or Dimitri? Or should I ask, which one do you prefer more? And why?
In my novel, the family restaurant could have been like this.
What would Barney have been without the family restaurant? As the middle brother, he seems content to stay put. While still a teen he masters what it takes to run a burger-and-fries joint and could continue with those skills the rest of his working life. Nor does he display the ambition his other two brothers thrive on, either. In short, he’s more or less happy where he is – especially once Pia brightens his existence.
My new novel, What’s Left, won’t let him rest there long. He’s destined for some greatness of his own.
It’s not that there weren’t conflicts. As I noted in a passage since deleted from the novel:
He could have fled, of course, as his elder brother had. But for whatever reasons, Barney chose to stay and serve. Keep his mouth shut, then, and continue sweeping and chopping and composting.
And so he moves up in the restaurant. Still, he’s been active in antiwar protests, which really pissed off Pappa Stavros. In some ways, you might consider Barney the biggest hippie of the lot, maybe even more than Thea Pia.
Well, I have some second-cousins who took over my great-uncle’s plumbing business, unlike my dad, who became a corporate accountant instead of continuing my grandfather’s shop.
Individual personalities come into play. I don’t see Barney wanting to handle the money-side of the restaurant business, had all the responsibility fallen on him.
What do you think? Could he have become an auto mechanic? Taken an assembly line job? Something else? Would he have still been happy? Just what was a hippie living at home, anyway? Do you know anyone who’s like Barney?
Long before I ever anticipated what’s evolved into my newest novel, What’s Left, I ended my first published novel with a young woman named Diana, in part because I liked the two puns it allowed. Her husband-to-be, a student of Tibetan Buddhism, had returned to Indiana – and now he could boast of a love that allowed him to be in Diana as well as in Dhyana, or deep meditation.
Not that you have to understand Sanskrit to read it. Shouldn’t the mere hint of something exotic should suffice?