I wrote earlier that I’d started a novel based on the King David story. It’s a few months later, and I’m working on the fifth draft, middle of chapter 6. Once starting rewrites, they tend to go on and on.
Meantime, I’ve read two King David novels. One, by Joseph Heller (he of CATCH-22), was a rambling excuse to write some sexy stuff and mock a supposed hero—which is a ready temptation to anyone who reads I and II SAMUEL and the beginning of I KINGS if you’re not in a hero-worshipping mood. The second, THE KING DAVID REPORT by a German novelist Stefan Heym, is better written but more about the narrator’s challenge of writing truth under an authoritarian regime; he stays at a distance from the main character himself. Both useful, though, in clarifying what I don’t want to do. Also I’ve read some useful Biblical commentaries. And seen two movies, both unmentionable.
I’ve often said that I rarely write what I know but more what I WANT to know. I may have some notion at the outset what attracts me to a subject, but it’s only in the writing that I slowly come to know my stake in it. Here, the heart of it is an old man looking back on his life, critically but with a bit of understanding—strange how that resonates with me right now.
The story itself is compelling, enough incidents for at least a year-long miniseries or a five-hour movie of Russian angst. If you haven’t been turned off by the Sunday School version—the precocious shepherd boy impelled by faith—the original is very much worth a read. Great mythic storytelling, certainly on a par with Homeric saga and a lot shorter.
My version, I guess, is more like a jazz riff on a standard tune: it’s certainly not the original, but it hits the needed notes for recognition, and it’s what the story means to me. It alternates between a straight third-person narrative and the first-person voice of the old man sorting out the meaning of his life. Being an old man sorting out the meaning of my life (not to mention culling photos and figuring what to do with my puppets) I empathize—even though I haven’t achieved a kingship or slain a single Philistine.
Neither of our cats care anything for what we write. They parade across the keyboard and sniff the hand that makes the typos. It matters not that our story is deathless, that anyone wants to read it, or sinks slowly into the muck like the monsters of Beowulf. The trick is to adopt the cats’ objective attitude while continuing my tatter on the keys.