This Intersection Time: The Fiction of Gordon Weaver

Article excerpt

At the core of the fiction of Gordon Weaver is a fascination with the mystery of time. And what he seems to find within that mystery is the key to identity: that identity is determined by time in its survey of a man's life.

Of course, all writers must deal with time implicitly or explicitly, with the processes it embodies of generation and annihilation of individuals, eras, cultures, with its delimitation of individual identity in the context of a life-span and a culture. Our era's transfer of power from an anthropomorphic god to impersonal processes of biology and physics, the displacement of God's wrath by nuclear fission, of the permanence of man's biological preeminence by a long, diverse evolutionary process leading to an unknown conclusion, has perhaps resulted in a particular consciousness in this century's fiction of man's powerlessness to time, the perishability not only of an individual or of his cultural context, but of his species, of the planet which bred the first germ of his appearance.

Time is a prominent concern of many major modern and contemporary writers, each of whom deals with it in his own particular fashion: Joyce with its psychological simultaneity, Eliot with its mystical dimensions, our temporal enslavement "at this intersection time", our liberation at "the still point of the turning world"; Wolfe, Steinbeck and others investigate time via broad family tapestries, Fitzgerald via the return of a changed person to a changed place. Barth, Fowles, and Boyle revive forms of the past to house contemporary psychological realities; Huxley, Orwell, and Barth create landscapes of the future as projections of the consequences of our present. Coover, Barthelme, and Hawkes play with temporal-spatial distortions to create new perspectives of existence in a zone of timelessness, while Beckett, John Gardner, and John Fowles treat time as the French existentialists do, as a "salle d'attente," similar to Calvino's railway station metaphor in If on a Winter's Night a Traveller: an "illuminated limbo suspended between two darknesses ..." where fiction and fact (i.e., fictional fiction and fictional fact) are fused like man and goat.

Weaver's approach to the process of time is via the moment, the point of temporal intersection. In his own words, Weaver's technique is "... to settle on a given moment in a character's life, to stop that moment in time, examine it, see its implications ...," to examine "... how experience means to people ..." rather than "... how it can be described from without,' objectively.'"

In over two decades of publishing, Weaver has been remarkably constant in his pursuit of this vision. His six books of fiction and eighty magazine stories are a gallery of such moments, a frieze of characters suspended in different aspects of time's triptych of dimensions. His first published story, "When Times Sit In" (1962), is about a man fleeing time's flux; his most recent, the award-winning novella, The Eight Corners of the World (Quarterly West. Fall-Winter 1984-85), deals with one man's attempt to gather the heap of broken moments of his life into a coherent whole.

Between these two, we find an array of characters consuming and being consumed by the moment: conmen photographers who peddle the timeless moment in a snapshop ("Fantastico," 1972; "The Eight Corners of the World," 1984); fathers sifting through the rubble of the past to find in their memory of their fathers "a meaning worth the living" for their own sons (Give Him a Stone, 1975); failed men whose lives have progressed on the warp of a moment's misperception ("Getting Serious," 1980; "Whiskey, Whiskey, Gin, Gin, Gin," 1983); men locked into the past (Circling Byzantium, part one, 1980), the present (Circling Byzantium, part two, 1980; "The Parts of Speech," 1984), and the future (Circling Byzantium, part three).

Weaver's moments determine identity. They are crucial not necessarily because of any dramatic occurrence, but because of some spiritual-psychological charge for the character (as in Give Him a Stone when Oskar Hansen, Jr. …