ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969
This is Chapter 44 (day 4):
DAZED AND CONFUSED
Written by Jake Holmes
Performed by Led Zeppelin
Recorded at Olympic Studio, London, England 1968
Drummer: John Bonham
“I’ve lived without family for over a year,” says Barry. He stabs a noodle roll. “It’s not so bad.”
Molly looks stricken. “You don’t mean it.”
“It was pretty bad for us,” I say.
“I don’t care if I never go back home,” says Barry. I can feel Molly steel herself across the table.
After a leaden pause, Jo Ellen asks Barry, “Did your attorney tell you about your draft notice?”
“Who’s being drafted?” asks Colonel Chapman.
“I am, evidently,” says Barry. “Yeah, she told me.”
“Your physical date is July second,” I say.
“I don’t plan to report,” says Barry.
Molly has taken a sip of her soup. She chokes on it.
“It was Mom’s idea to bring you home,” she says, coughing. “She said we would figure out what to do as a family.”
“No way am I going home to let Dad scream at me again!”
Colonel Chapman leans his elbows on the table. “I personally know young men — or knew them — who would be happy to have their parents scream at them again, if they could be here, on this planet, alive.”
This scene goes on for another two pages. It was a pleasure to write. Dinner-table scenes are full of possibilities. Get everyone around a table, talking and eating, airing their grievances, pressing their points, and move the story forward.
I learned to do this with EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. I had an ensemble cast for that book, the largest I’d ever created at that point, and I needed a way for them all to be heard in conversation. A dinner table — or, in the case of THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS, a ball field; or in the case of A LONG LINE OF CAKES, a gathering at an old man’s house and an impromptu picnic — accomplish so many storytelling tasks.
The dinner table scene in COUNTDOWN, where Uncle Otts waves Life Magazine and says, “We won’t have another Thanksgiving if we are all blown up!” or the dinner scene in REVOLUTION where the reader understands Memaw’s character and Uncle Vivian’s politics, and suddenly the relationships between all the characters and Sunny, our hero, comes into view…
These scenes contain a ton of dialogue, and dialogue accomplishes three major tasks in a story: 1. It provides information. 2. It characterizes. 3. It moves the story forward.
Even a small scene, like the one between Sunny and Laura Mae, the hired help, gives us so much information, and provides all kinds of emotional resonance, whether they are in the kitchen alone or sitting in the back of the car and suddenly, gazing out the window, Laura Mae reminisces about Emmett Till. Dialogue is rich territory.
So in Chapter 44, sitting at the big round table at Sam Wo’s in Chinatown, it all comes together. They process what happened earlier in the chapter, secrets are revealed, personalities are confirmed, backstory is given, exposition is laced in, and resolutions are begun for characters who are about to exit the stage.
There is so much confusion, and Molly is certainly dazed by now, but at the same time, this confusion is making a path for clarity… that’s how it works.
Dinner-time (or gathering) scenes are big payoffs for the reader. Nothing is so rewarding to write in a novel as dialogue.
As for Led Zeppelin and “Dazed and Confused,” the song title was perfect for what I wanted to accomplish in this chapter. Led and I (hahaha) were never close, but I knew the song, and knew how crazily-right it sounded for Molly with its psychedelic-rock overtones that mimic the Hendrix that Barry so loves. Molly is at a crossroads, just as the country was, in 1969. So much was being born:
While so many were also dying:
Dazed and confused. Yes, we were.