the ten pillars: the time of your life

A few years ago, as I talked about here, I was planning to write a chapter set entirely in a bar. I looked at plays set in a bar, but I found that what I was really looking for was The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan, which I'd seen years earlier and which had drilled its way into my brain. The chapter ended up being "The Dream, Now."

A morning and a night in a bar in San Francisco in 1939. The Depression is everywhere, and war is about to start. Various characters (a cynical man with money, a man hoping for another chance with the woman he loves, a hooker with stories about a successful history in burlesque, a comedian and dancer with jokes nobody laughs at, and others) "come and go and say what they must say." Sometimes they hardly interact at all, each is so wrapped up in his or her own fantasies or hopes or dreams. But at times they connect.

An earnest young man (in a bow tie) named Dudley R. Bostwick pines for a woman named Elsie Mandelspiegel, and this seems like a running joke until Elsie finally arrives and they reunion is so moving that even Nick the bartender chokes up.

Reading and seeing this again recently (and, miracle of miracles, the stage production I saw a million years ago is available on DVD), I made the connection with why I like it so much.

A bunch of characters and storylines, all advancing and intertwining, stories about realists and dreamers, it's like a Robert Altman movie. Or, really, Robert Altman made a lot of movies that were like The Time of Your Life.

I'm quite pleased with the chapter, by the way. It's in the middle of the novel U-town, but I think it can be read by itself.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in The Ten Pillars and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to the ten pillars: the time of your life

  1. sonje says:

    It’s so hard to do intertwining storylines well when they all start out completely separate and then have to add up to something in the end. But it is quite, quite satisfying when it works.

  2. I’ve had a couple of things like that work out when I was pantsing, and nobody was more surprised than I was.

    In general, I think it’s a balance, because if way the pieces start to come together is too obvious, it can take the reader out of the story (“Wow, the writer is making all of these pieces come together. Cool.”). That can work in comedy, but not in anything dramatic.

Leave a Reply