While most of us are trying to drink the last dregs of summer away over the Labour Day long weekend, writers all over the world draw their blinds, stock up on coffee and oil their laptop keyboards in preparation for one of the most frenetic writing marathons of the year, the 3-Day Novel Contest. The goal is simple: write an entire book in 72 short hours.
This year, Kayt Burgess emerged from the chaos a victor with her fast-paced and strangely intriguing Heidegger Stairwell, a fictional memoir about an alternative crossover band that reaches the heights of fame and stardom which, predictably, brings out the best and worst in the protagonists. Evan Strocker, the memoir’s author, diligently documents the band’s history, though not without a healthy dose of his own personality thrown into the mix as he himself tries to figure out his transgender identity growing up. To be sure, he never really tries to present an objective history of the band — this is rock and roll, after all — which lends the novel much of its charm. Additionally, the memoir presented as the novel is “unfinished” as Strocker presents the manuscript to his editor with the caveat, “They’re petty bastards. If any of them have notes, please compile and edit them for my sake.”
Instantly, Strocker is presented as an unlikeable character, not only in his foreword to his editor but from the initial scene, too. Heidegger Stairwell is in a penthouse suite somewhere in Germany, counting down the moments until they have to go through the motions once more on stage that night, and they are clearly falling apart. Strocker’s descriptions, both of himself and of his life-long friends and co-conspirators, are indeed petty, as they are relentless in their personal attacks and unrepentant in their childishness. As is perhaps cliched for a band of that fame, everyone hates each other, no one can wait to retreat into their own personal hell hole and nothing makes much sense anymore. Yes, the plot itself is nothing new and somewhat flat, but Burgess manages to make these self-centred assholes seem unexplainable interesting. It’s like you want to see exactly how they’re going to top yesterday’s shitty behaviour towards each other today.
A large part of what makes Heidegger more entertaining than it should be is precisely the manuscript’s unfinished nature. The edits that Strocker wonders about in the foreword are included in the margins throughout the novel. This gives each of the members of Heidegger their own chance at developing their character, often presenting conflicting voices to that which Strocker originally offers. Factual corrections, sly digs, overt put-downs and off-the-cuff remarks are all part of this shadow narrative arc, which helps flesh out and deepen the plot itself. Without these additions, which Strocker ostensibly has yet to see, the plot would have been much more one-dimensional and it is difficult to imagine how long you could read about a bunch of adult-children trying to figure out how to deal with their place in the world. As the voices layer each other, though, the book develops its charm. It could have easily been a gimmick, but the plot device works exceedingly well. Often, the band’s comments are far more interesting than the tale itself.
The 3-Day Novel Contest is often undertaken by writers more as a personal challenge than anything else, as a way to re-energize a languishing creativity. Heidegger Stairwell, thankfully, was not relegated to Burgess’ top desk drawer. It’s a fast read and an entertaining one, at that. Recommended for anyone with a healthy love for schadenfreude.
By Sebastian Buzzalino