Choice After Choice After Choice

© OpenStreetMap contributors; http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

Remix of Flint and University of Chicago by Eleanor Tutt
Maps and data © OpenStreetMap contributors; http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

The “map” above, remixed from Open Street Map data, depicts a portion of Flint, Michigan overlayed on the University of Chicago.  South Saginaw clips the corner of the Reynolds Club; Interstate 69 runs through Snell-Hitchcock and the Reg.  The cartography, at first glance, seems arbitrary: under what circumstances would these two places meet?

Connor Coyne’s newest novel, Shattering Glass, provides one answer.  In the novel, Coyne combines features of his hometown of Flint, Michigan and his (and my) alma mater of the University of Chicago in the fictitious city of Arkaic, Michigan.  In Arkaic, property values have plummeted to the extent that A. Olan, a wealthy philanthropist, can economically justify acquiring a vacant asylum and renovating it into the prestigious Arkaic University, a school “power[ed by] the raw memories of the ruined town.”

Fortunately, Coyne is observant and invested enough to offer the reader a nuanced view of what it means to be a “ruined town.”  In one excerpt, as one of his characters wanders, she “sees the traces of secret life among the desolations. Hidden treasures that have ridden out the blizzard. She passes a used bookstore, a hole-in-the-wall bakery, a laundromat, a trophy factory, a used car dealership, a Tiki-themed bar. They all hum with life, even though it’s well past business hours.”  Coyne says he views Arkaic as a much exaggerated version of Flint and, reading excerpts from Shattering Glass, his passion for the actual city he, his wife, and his young daughter call home shines through, even as weird, avant-garde, horrific forces lurk in the shadows of the imagined Arkaic.

Coyne’s process and philosophy around literary publishing is also thought-provoking.  In one Kickstarter update, he writes:

“In addition to choices that make a story better, writers make choices that make a story what it is: happy instead of sad, defined instead of ambiguous, serious instead of playful.  A look at earlier and other versions could give interested readers an idea of the story that might have been.

While Coyne explains that this idea was inspired by B-sides and remixing music, I would argue it also draws from a close reading of place.  What are cities beyond a cacophony of individuals and organizations making choice after choice after choice, until those choices solidify into a seemingly predestined form.  For anyone who has watched how these series of discrete, often contradictory choices play out over time, it is difficult not to wonder what might have happened had a less powerful voice been amplified, a different choice been developed.  One wonders what our cities might look like remixed, with a different track boosted.  Or what our cities might look like if they overlapped each other, geographically or culturally, as in the map of Flint and University of Chicago.

I backed Shattering Glass on Kickstarter for many reasons.  I had the privilege of collaborating with Coyne during my time at the University of Chicago and trust his vision.  He and his wife opened their home to me when I visited Flint in the summer of 2003.  Coyne is serious about pursuing mutually beneficial collaborations with other artists.  And, finally, I think fiction, as a form, offers opportunities for thinking about place that have not fully been explored: by nestling ideas within plot, folding the political into the imagined, remixing the geographies and histories of places.  I believe Coyne’s deep knowledge of and dedication to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, combined with his experimental take on what literary fiction can be, make him well-suited to this task.

Please join me in supporting Shattering Glass.  There are only a few days left of the Kickstarter Campaign.

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