My wife, who is discerning and who is my initial reader, had commented the other day that my Fathers and Sons story “The Lonely Road” isn’t so much about the relationship between a father and a son as it is between a husband and a wife. This is not a bad thing, of course. That is certainly worthy and fruitful subject matter. And while I do think the father son relationship is explored a bit there, between David feeling he has disappointed his father and David fearing he will disappoint his son, I can see that these are only tangential to the bigger plot. David is struggling with himself, and he, too, is lucky to have a discerning wife.
I think I mentioned here in a recent post that I’ve come to realize that my Fathers and Sons stories are pretty much actually chapters from what could be considered a slightly non-standard novel. They certainly all operate within the same fictional universe, and as I write them, I see the implications of them to each other. So I’m often going back to another of the stories to refine it now that I have a better picture of the universe they all exist in.
So these stories, which are intended to be able to stand alone, are also part of a bigger whole. And, for good or ill, that is how I comprehend them. I know what’s coming. I know what leads to any given point in each story. I know things the general reader does not, and so a general reader (even a certain discerning one who has read all of the stories in their clumsy draft form) can miss the overarching father and son relationship theme.
For example, in “The Lonely Road” I have David chastising himself for the “stupid thing” he has done. I think it’s pretty clear that this stupid thing is getting his girlfriend pregnant at 17 (and so David starts down the fatherhood road), but I have a whole story that recounts that incident: two healthy and excited teenagers at a quiet cabin in the Ozark forest. So I had that background in my mind as I wrote the later story. The reader, at this point, wouldn’t. (Though when the inevitable collection is published . . . ) And as much as I tried to hint at David’s relationship with his father in “The Lonely Road”, I did as well in that other story. (And it wasn’t easy fitting a father into a story about first-time sex between two kids, trust me.)
But I also have a whole story just discussing the importance of that cabin in the woods to the family. And a reader of “The Lonely Road” won’t know that at this point, but I do. This story does delve more deeply into the relationships between the two fathers and the two sons. But my point is (and I do have a point) that I need to be careful that I don’t assume that the reader knows as much as I do about the story, the characters, and their backgrounds.