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The End took ten years to write.  I started it in New Mexico; finished the original first chapters in Pike County, Georgia; wrote another two hundred pages in Iowa; another hundred fifty in Rome and Catania, Sicily; another hundred in New York.  By then, after five years, there were about six hundred pages in the manuscript, almost none of which remain in the completed novel.  The book in its finished form was written almost entirely over the following five years in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  (None of it was written in Ohio, where most of the story takes place.)  The writing process resembled the probably wasteful method of building a stone bridge in which a wooden bridge is first erected, the stone is fitted overtop of it, and then the wood is dismantled and burned.

{Writing The End}

The book was composed longhand, then typed on an Underwood manual typewriter, then revised and retyped repeatedly, one chapter at a time, until fatigue and disillusionment set in.  Longhand lent itself to recklessness, an openness to mess and surprise.  Once on the typewriter, the writing was more deliberate and settled.  The persistent thwacking of the machine under the direct physical power of one’s fingers, the feel of the keys striking the paper and the platen are so emphatic that they seem to lend their distinctive spirit to the writing itself.  Meanwhile the manually typed page, ragged with x-ing out, unequal spaces, the faint stem of the “q,” reminds the eye that this is not yet a final draft; the text is still growing.

Once on the computer, the final stage for me, the language begins to die.  The computer immediately yields a sleek, glib surface, whether the composition is a brainstorm or the distillation of years.  A word on a laser-printed page is like a silver dollar under shellac on a bar.  I have trouble judging whether it’s real or fake because the attractive surface is so impenetrable.  The computer saves needless retyping in the last drafts, but I distrust its phony perfectionism, and the million distractions it offers, and its capricious habit of swallowing files; so I don’t own one.  The final versions of the The End were typed into a loaner.

The book is about its characters.  They are the source of all its themes and action.  I perceive them as elemental and, as it were, not of my own making.  I believe that they exist and have motives as deep-seated and mysterious as my own.  Whenever a pre-arranged notion of plot demanded a certain act from one of the characters, the character dependably refused.  I finally concluded that the characters had autonomy that they were trying to protect as a person would do.  If I failed, I would fail to depict them, rather than to create them.  This may be a contrivance, but it didn’t feel like a contrivance.

The novel therefore keeps the characters and their experience of the world of the book in the foreground, and all other concerns in the back.  Abortion, race relations, ethnicity, and immigration all figure in the events, but they figure in the background because the characters experience them that way.

All of the main characters—the baker Rocco, Mrs. Marini, Lina, Enzo, the boy Ciccio, and the jeweler—are drawn to their own disappearance, their peculiar end.  Death is only one of the forms this takes.  I understand this attraction as the character’s desire not to cease being, but to cease being a mere self, an I, and to be subsumed into the greater world.  The End is the end of the ego and the beginning of a kind of existence undifferentiated from the existence of other people and inanimate things.  The turmoil common to all the characters is that this desire is nearly always frustrated by the demands of being a conscious person.  Mrs. Marini, looking into the Ashtabula woods, observes:  “The trees were both in the place and of it.  But to know that one was here was to be an awareness amid the limitless unaware; it was to be in a place but never of it, like a pearl in a cake.”

This concern slowly emerged in each of the characters as the story played out.  Over time I came to think of them as real people, absolutely distinct from myself, whose free choices and characteristic obsessions, the unchosen dictates of personality and soul, would determine everything.  In this sense, I do not consider myself the author of the book.