This All Happened

This All Happened - Michael Winter Gabriel English was also the protagonist of Michael Winter's short story collection One Last Good Look. I realized this after I had finished this novel and felt a little badly. As though I'd arrived significantly late for an event, only to discover that I'd under-dressed as well. Which isn't to say that This All Happened wasn't complete as a reading experience, but I like to know my characters from the moment they arrive in the literary world.

But readers do get to know Gabe well throughout the year chronicled in This All Happened. It's not an easy year in his life; in fact, the novel begins with a moment of unhappiness. On January 1st, at very-nearly-the-moment-of-the-New-Year, "Lydia leans back to laugh at something Wilf Jardine says". Gabe is unhappy about this, about Lydia's laughter, about Wilf's wolf-like interest in Lydia.

He records his unhappiness in the first entry of this year's chronicles (one vignette for each day of each year following) and muses on the unhappy portions of his relationship with Lydia throughout the year, as he works on his novel, which he has vowed to finish before year-end. It's a deliberate plan and the structure of the novel is similarly deliberate.

The craft of novel-writing overtly considered by Gabe and, also, Maisie, who writes as well.

"A novel should be told by the voice of an authority, yet a voice that is still discovering the meaning of what the story is. There should be wonder. And all traces of the technical problem a novel delivers (that is, how do you keep the story afloat for three hundred pages?) should be erased or masked."

And perhaps because Gabe has appeared in fiction before, it's significant that the subtitle of this novel is A Fictional Memoir. So Gabe is the reader's voice of authority, but the reader can't help but wonder about Michael Winter, who is Gabe's voice of authority.

How does Michael Winter keep This All Happened afloat for nearly 300 pages? The vignettes do mask the passage of time and attend to the flow of the story. Each day feels distinct, which sometimes makes for awkward reading (and, likely, awkward living for Gabe and company, so this contributes to the novel's credibility), the transitions often abrupt, as 28 to 31 snippets depict a month in Gabe's experience.

In August, he writes: "I have my weight on one leg. I often rest on one leg to given an ankle some relief. The body does things the mind is oblivious to. Lydia is firmly planted on two legs. She's slightly back on her heels, feet apart, ready to go. I am more floaty, balanced, ready to bend with whatever comes. Lydia anchored, resists any oncoming."

Gabe and Lydia are standing very differently in the world: they realize it and the reader realizes it. The growing sense of unease between these two characters, throughout this paged year, alternates with moments of reconnection and refreshed commitment, and entangles the reader along the way.

(If you're interested, there is a somewhat longer review of this book on BIP here.)