Northwest Passage: A Novel
A group of 18th century, English explorers, searching for a Northwest Passage, are trapped in the ice off Cape Barrow. All die of scurvy, trichinosis, starvation, or madness. Late in the 20th century, an unemployed history teacher in the Puget Sound region of Washington State locates the journals of the ship's naturalist and its doctor, and begins editing them in the hope that the resulting book will help him find a job. There is a runaway nuclear reactor "accident." When, in the far distant future, the Pacific Northwest has cooled down enough to be reentered, the 18th century journals and the teacher's edition of them are rediscovered. These new papers are eagerly fallen upon by a scholar who beings to re-edit the 20th century edition. Ultimately, the three centuries converge in language-each with its own grammar, punctuation and spelling-a chorus of distinct voices.
"What is the pleasure of the antiqued surface? It does insist, does it not? Along with our most avant-garde fictioneers, on the word on the page. Is it that? If so, how easily we enter that world so wobbling and indecisive, how quickly even that insistence (let every man spel for himself!) evaporates and the island itself, 'We spent 4 Dais beeting doun to it,' comes clear, present, and dangerous." —George Chambers
He woke up J crawling into bed, and told her he had started the book. She gave him a big hug and kiss, but then went right back to sleep. In the morning while he ate his mush he let her read what he had done so far.
"It's good," she said (her British accent was still strong, even after six years), "But you'll have to cut out all the shits and fucked for Mrs. Thorndike, and then you'll have to cut out Mrs. Thorndike, too, if you really want to publish it."
"What do you know about art?" he shouted, chasing her out of the kitchen goosing her. She jumped straight into bed surrendering, but though he jumped on top of her and put his arms around her he was already thinking about transcribing more of the manuscript and putting it in place.
"The thing is," he said, "I have to put it down my way to start with, because my real interest is in learning from it, in finding all the correspondences somehow with my life. That's what keeps my interest up. After it's done, I can cut out all the personal parts."
"Will the personal parts have parts about us in it?"
"You could write a fantastic pornographic novel just about us."
"Yeah," he said absently.
" 'Then she pulled up her nighty, then he put his hand on her cunt-'"
"That's not even good pornography," he said, getting up.
"Fix me a cup of coffe so I can get to work."
"You lazy fuck," she said, pulling her nighty back down. She started laughing.
"The long s's made me think of when we were home last time and you got that facsimile copy of The Natural History of Seleborne, and Daddy was reading it aloud, forgetting and pronouncing all the long s's as f's, and unfortunately it was the section about goatsuckers. Mum and I were practically wetting ourselves laughing."
He came back to the bed and started to push her down.
"No you don't. You've missed your chance. Get to work, and now you're going to have to be distracted all day thinking about my luscious body, and if you're very lucky, maybe you'll get another chance at it tonight.
The Northwest Passage
The Northwest Passage