Oscar Keye is dead and I am free: I just delivered my latest manuscript to the publisher. Freedom…
Fiction always begins as escape, a jailbreak, a mad dash for wild, unknown quarters. Fiction itself is freedom, turning the mundane into the extraordinary!
The bones of my being are loose-jointed things hooked by springs and oiled on make believe.
As master of this space I evade boredom: an egg addiction here, an improbable love affair there. Turn a harmless momma’s boy into a vicious boss, his barbershop quartet face photoshopped onto his mug-on-a-mug mug. Swallow the shredder guy’s tie in his equipment and install elevators no one can use.
Oscar Keye’s story, The Artificial Intelligence of Oscar Keye, gave me all this and more besides. I’m grateful. I liked Oscar Keye. But now he is dead.
Oscar Keye was just an ordinary servant, a workaday commuter, a bland victim of his environment. The fiction process turned him into three men at once: fatigued senior manager Howard Graves; Manny Teague, the middle-aged family man who can’t stop talking about his kids; and the bewildered graduate student intern on the fast path to disillusion, Gabriel Dunne. It was Keye who got off the train at Foggy Bottom, but by the time he trudged up the street to his dreary federal office he’d become a trinity. His point of view disappeared, replaced by a dozen perspectives: those who helped and those who hindered, friends and foes, antagonists, meddlers, wise-guys. Beasts.
Despite these inventions, over time the novel sank its claws into me. The novel itself became a prison. Three years on, the novel imprisoned me. Graves’ mysterious Mason Jar of fluids; Teague’s endless childhood fart jokes; Dunne’s quest to “improve government”; these skeletal structures soon became inflexible iron rods, cell bars and prison stripes, locking me into their own vision of life inside routine.
After three years behind those bars I’m free again. Oxygen, deep breaths, I can breath. No longer am I pinioned by the inventions threading the latest work. I’m free to come up with new ones: a food truck; a morning drive time radio host; a boy trapped indoors building fanciful cityscapes out of old shoe boxes?
Anything. I am free to invent, again.
Until the invention, too, imprisons me.
From The Artificial Intelligence of Oscar Keye
Oscar Keye rode backwards on the train. Behind him, in the direction toward which he moved, all of Washington lay in deep fog.
Keye’s eyes returned to the sign: IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING. And there, on the stained carpet at his feet: a black bag with no owner.