The Novel as Device in Deni Ellis Béchard’s Into the Sun

In Into the Sun, a novel marked by delayed-release information (Michiko’s gender, race, name, and sexuality remain unknown during much of the early exposition, to say nothing of Tam’s), perhaps the most interesting iteration is the metatextual idea of Michiko’s novel, and whether we are, as the story goes on, being treated to sections of it, or just reliving those experiences from the perspectives of those about which Michiko just happens to be writing (Idris, Justin, Alexandra, and Clay). Early on, the hyper-specific hewing to the perspective of the character whose life we’re following becomes evocative and clear. For example, in the flashback to Justin’s childhood, Justin learns that Clay’s stepfather “had left and never returned” and that the woman Justin thought was Clay’s sister was actually his mother exactly as the audience does – we are given no previous indications that these things were true from any individual or omnipotent perspective. Justin’s “shock” that “the woman he’d spied on wasn’t Clay’s sister” is exactly analogous to the audience’s – we aren’t even a step ahead of him. This is an early indicator of the oddness of Béchard’s experiment, given that we already know Michiko plans to write a novel about the four people who supposedly died in the car bombing, and read this section as something between a separate narrative and an actual section of that novel. The sudden springing of information, as well as the lack of quotation marks in the third-person sections, leaves the audience confused as to what type of story we’ve swung into and, if it is indeed meta-fiction, where Michiko could have gotten the deeply personal information she uses – we have no indication.

Part of this has to do with chronology. Soon after the initial introduction of the Justin/Clay saga, Michiko tells us that she is writing “her tale about Justin and Clay” and is “let[ting] herself invent, fracturing the narrative, shifting the pieces, mixing them.” This leads the reader directly to the conclusion that the Justin/Clay story is actually fiction, and fed by Michiko’s reading of Justin, which is by definition inaccurate since she knew very little of him and was biased against him since she disapproved of Alexandra’s choice. Thus in the earlier parts of the book there’s a kind of injustice projected onto what we assume is a retelling. However, this is later undercut somewhat when Alexandra tells Michiko the stories of the grocery store and airport in person, and the revelation that Michiko was present at the club the night Alexandra and Justin went home together. This introduces a modicum of self-doubt on the part of the reader, and keeps the reality of the story uncertain and on edge.

The uncertainty of the chronology leads eventually to the question of whether Michiko wrote her novel before or after she knew the full stories of the people about whom she was writing it. This is particularly uncertain because we never find out for sure how Michiko finds out anything about Clay’s adult life, or anything about Idris. Justin’s mother tells Michiko “the story of their boyhoods,” but the book comes to reveal that there is no way Michiko could actually have obtained the bulk of the information about most of the victims – her only real resource is Alexandra’s journals. Thus the book finally comes to rest upon the pretty certain conclusion that the third-person episodes are in fact just that, from an omnipotent point of view, and not Michiko’s.  (The moment where this became clear to me specifically was when Idris’s suit and relocation to Dubai, in Michiko’s story, matched exactly the details of his own.) But the fact that Béchard allows us to wonder so long gets to the heart of his novel – the question, in a tale as complex and morally ugly as this one, not only as to what is right but as to what is true.

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