The Unmapped Man

There are still places an American can hide.

Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Trespassers. I like it a bunch; if you haven’t read it, I wish you would. It’s what I have to say to you. It’s not really an adventure story — what action there is mostly involves a bunch of kids breaking into abandoned buildings and photographing them. The narrator is a sixteen-year-old aspiring troublemaker from North Carolina at large in Jersey during the summer of 2004. Recent historical fiction, in other words. Just like most fiction is, I guess.

I was compelled to write the story because of certain sad conclusions I’d drawn about America, and Americans, and how we view the landscape. I don’t necessarily want to give anything away about the story in case you do decide to read it sometime, but I did feel like I was writing against techno-conformity, and I hope that people who did read The Trespassers understood my intent. Since I put everything I care about in that book, I can’t help but return to those themes in the short stories I’ve been writing for the Almanac. Maybe obsessively. I can’t tell yet. I’ve been trying to vary the style and tone as a safeguard against redundancy.

The latest is the longest at eight thousand words, which is too many words for the Internet, but there it is. I like it best of the stories, and that’s probably because it’s the one that reminds me the most of The Trespassers: there’s a gently anti-social and wholly unreliable protagonist who is looking desperately for connections with others without compromising a skewed set of personal ethics. I’ve paired the story with my favorite song in the entire Almanac, at least for now — and when I ask myself why it’s my favorite song, I’m forced to conclude that’s because it, too, reminds me of The Trespassers. There’s something I’m trying to get at; I’ve been trying for twenty-five years, at least. I may never get there, but when I feel like I’ve been able to render some of it in a book or on an album, that’s the stuff I’ve done that’s meaningful to me.

“The Unmapped Man” was directly inspired by a different book — The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. If you haven’t read it, it’s sort of a Louisianan version of The Catcher In The Rye: Binx Bolling, the main character, has come unmoored from the society he keeps and maybe even from himself. He wanders around a spectral version of New Orleans, periodically attempting to jump free from his quotidian existence but mostly just going with the flow. If you’ve read the book, some of the references in the song might make sense, and this was initially subtitled Binx Bolling’s Blues, but the narrator isn’t Binx, it’s Bo, who is an entirely different can of worms, or drawer of knives. So yeah, Walker Percy can’t be held responsible for any of this. A small tip of the cap goes to my wise friend Sarah, who, just a few days ago, told me, with all sincerity, that Utopia begins with U. I popped it right in the story. It needed to go someplace.