A Listening Thing — Reader Comments

If you’ve read some or all of my novel, A Listening Thing, and would like to add a comment or question to this page, click here. In your message, please let me know if you would like me to include a link to your e-mail address or home page. Otherwise, I won’t add that information. Your messages will be added the same day they are received, usually within a few hours. If they aren’t, that means I am probably dead, in which case it might take a little longer.

Submitted by Lane Rasmussen . . .
These words which appear in Chapter 24 of William Michaelian’s book A Listening Thing jumped out at me as I was examining the book. Stephen Monroe is on a visit to his mother’s and is looking around her house:

“. . . I picked up the picture. Taken not long before we found out Dad had cancer, it was an ordinary shot of two ordinary people living very ordinary lives. What made it extraordinary, though, was my parents’ obvious happiness. . . .”

This book is about an ordinary guy named Stephen Monroe who is living a rather ordinary life after his divorce from his wife Mary. Unfortunately, his life does not bring him happiness. We read of his struggles as he tries to cope with his everyday problems. We hope events will take place that will bring satisfaction and happiness back in his life. Eventually, we discover his ex-wife Mary will likely play a crucial role in the solution to his problems. That is, if they can work out issues that are keeping them apart.

William Michaelian has written a book that could be part of a larger story. A prequel and a sequel could help us learn how Stephen developed into the person he did; as well as show us how his life could change. And to see if Stephen too, along with Mary, can find the kind of happiness his parents had. As well as their son Matt.

Response by William Michaelian . . .
Until you mentioned it, I had never thought of writing a prequel or sequel. It’s interesting, because long after some of my stories were written, I still find myself thinking about some of the people in them and wondering how they are getting along, as I do with friends and relatives I haven’t seen in a long time. It is pleasant to dwell in this sort of dream world. But I never really do anything about it. Instead, I just write another story.

Submitted by Jonathan Rushdoony . . .
Many thanks to William Michaelian for sharing A Listening Thing with us. It is an excellent novel that I greatly enjoyed. It is the story of a Stephen Monroe’s struggle with his disappointments and despair, and whether he can ever overcome them. Michaelian tells Stephen’s story with great humor and honesty, from Stephen’s struggles with everyday life to his estrangement from his ex-wife Mary. I highly recommend A Listening Thing, whether you’re new to Michaelian’s work or, like me, have already been enjoying his short stories (and web writings). I also commend Michaelian for making A Listening Thing freely available to us on his web site in its entirety. The ordeal of the novel’s own struggle with a publisher is a story by itself, which, true to form, Michaelian has shared with us on his web pages with his characteristic humor and honesty. He’s an exceptional and gifted writer and his release of A Listening Thing is a great opportunity for us to read his first novel. I look forward to his next novel. And if a smart publisher wakes up to Michaelian’s growing catalog of excellent work, then maybe he can get that haircut and pair of shoes he always seems to be postponing.

Response by William Michaelian . . .
Thank you for your wonderful comments. Your gracious exaggeration makes me feel ten years younger. Now, if we could only do something about my appearance. The truth is, my hair has gotten so long that I am afraid to post a current photo on my website. Then again, maybe I should send it to my crooked ex-publisher. Seeing it just might finish him off.

Submitted by Renee . . .
You drew me in, William. Or perhaps more importantly, Stephen Monroe drew me in. . . .

You made me want something for Stephen — and believe it or not, it wasn’t Mary!! Your character made me wish I could sit him down in a corner booth at Denny’s and have a nice long chat over coffee and hash browns. “Stephen,” I wanted to say to him, “it’s time to get out there and live a little!”

How’s that for evoking emotion in your reader? Are you surprised?

Somehow I just kept hoping he’d make his way to some sleazy little nightclub where he ended up drinking too much tequila and having a one night stand with a little blonde in six-inch heels!!!!

Your use of emotion, dialogue and conflict made me care about Stephen Monroe. In fact, I cared for him so much that I wasn’t ready to see him go back with Mary until I could convince him to first go out and. . . . umm, well, get laid or something! *(Oops, did I really just say that??? Sorry, I didn’t know any other way to put it so I figured I might as well be blunt!)

Seriously, I love your stories. I find in your work the perfect blend of tender insight and wit.

Response by William Michaelian . . .
Thank you, Renee. You are too kind. It does almost seem that Stephen has given up living for Lent. On occasion, he is able to see the bright side, but he doesn’t trust it. There must be a gray or rusty lining somewhere. What I like most about him is his stubbornness and sense of humor. He isn’t satisfied with things as they are. He’s certain there should be more, and wants to know himself. The trouble is, such traits aren’t really encouraged in our present society. It’s all right if we are rugged individuals, as long as we fit in and are like everyone else. Stephen Monroe rocks the boat — his boat, anyway. He does a lot of psychological splashing in his life. But in the end, who is all wet?

Submitted by Jason Bulger (San Francisco, California) . . .
Consciousness tends to be accompanied by conscientiousness. At this point, our options diminish since it is nearly impossible to retreat into the realm of darkness, simplicity, and ignorance. This is Stephen Monroe’s crisis. He feels the pressure to live his life positively, but finds himself, in these consumer-driven days, an inadequate judge of the word “positively.” At times the fault he finds results from the outside world and its reluctance to accept him, while at other times he lays the blame solely on himself.

It is this blame which creates a gulf between husband and wife, the two proceeding with a divorce almost as a cultural ritual instead of a necessity. Not until Monroe can isolate his shortcomings from the downfalls of society will he be able to face her again as a whole man.

But this story isn’t just about Stephen Monroe; it is equally about Mary. She is the enlightened soul who can intrinsically find good wherever she looks, the patient mother and wife who would be enraged only by outward hatred, not indifference or hypocrisy — things that send her husband flaming. As a mirror to Monroe, Mary serves perhaps the most crucial role in the book since her affirmation and validation are all that he seeks in life, all he needs to be himself again.

Monroe isn’t struggling to become a hero. He’s struggling — like we all are — to commit one heroic act. In some sense, he’s trying too hard. “I don’t know how to reconcile what I see with what I feel, or how to devise a sensible way of living,” he writes. Searching, rambling, wandering, Monroe is looking for the key to his life in every direction except the one that terrifies him: Mary. But his reconciliation with Mary can only come after he has the strength to curtail his self-effacing behavior, after he finds an outlet for his desire and a sensible way of living. It comes with a little help from “Uncle Leo.”

It is both “Uncle Leo” (the story about him) and Mary who make Monroe complete. When he offers himself — “I am both a pretender and broke” — they humbly accept. This is a story of survival, of overcoming ambivalence and the grayness in a world that values all the wrong things. Here, finding a reason to live can be priceless.

Response by William Michaelian . . .
Wow. That’s a full-blown review. Thank you. I appreciate your last observation about this being a story of survival. To me, Stephen’s willingness to see, admit, and be bothered by the mess we have made, and to see, admit, and be tortured by the mess he has made, make him a real hero. It almost doesn’t matter whether he goes on to solve the problems or not, although a success here and there would be nice. But the key ingredient, I think, is his sense of humor, which seems to have grown in proportion to his suffering. If only we were all so lucky. I suspect that those who aren’t so blessed would be the last people to think of Stephen Monroe as a lucky person. But he is lucky, because he is finding his way, and beginning to make some real sense of the “ambivalence and the grayness,” as you suggest. And you’re right — he isn’t doing it alone. Where would he be without Mary and Uncle Leo? I hate to think about it, really.

Submitted by Koko Yegnukian (New York City) . . .
I just received your two new collections of poetry today. Can’t wait to get home and dig in. I also finished A Listening Thing. I thought of the book as more of a personal philosophy of life rather than a novel. I did immensely enjoy the story of our hero squeezed in between your observations about life, the living and everything else that has some sort of impact on the latter. As far as the story itself, anyone who has ever loved and lost and regained by realizing they had never lost must have felt as if they were the one taking the rides to the printers, making sandwiches or hugging the giant oak.

Thanks again for your wonder of words.

Response by William Michaelian . . .
And thank you — for your kind remarks, and for reading the book. No doubt about it: philosophy, compendium, and even manifesto are words that at least partly describe the narrator’s introspective rambling in A Listening Thing. In fact, one reader told me privately that early in the book, he was wondering what he had gotten himself into, and that, frankly, it was the hero’s wit and sarcasm that seemed to promise light at the end of the tunnel. He also said he came to realize the gloom and doom was what made the “sweet so sweet” later on — in my opinion, a key observation. Oaks, crows — I still marvel at them. I guess I always will.

Submitted by David Menendian (Fresno, California) . . .
I enjoyed reading your novel and appreciated it on many levels. You give your primary characters the kind of dimension that makes me care about them. The novel focuses on Stephen Monroe, and we see everything through his eyes, but his setting and environment and surrounding people make up the fabric of authentic experience. They are “real” people, the rank and file, and we can all relate to them. The conclusion of Chapter 8 was especially gratifying for me, as I wanted to read out loud Stephen Monroe’s indictment of the “system” that has the capacity to consume us all. Your concluding paragraph of Chapter 8 fit so seamlessly with the thought process of your main character as well as in its contextual position, yet its main idea branched into almost every other critical juncture of the story. Upon the story’s conclusion, I wondered if the hint of optimism was incongruous with Stephen Monroe’s milieu. Instantly, however, I knew that your conclusion was perfectly consistent with the story’s arc. The idyllic poetry of Chapter 22 worked so well as a transitional bridge to the story’s landing. I could keep going back to it and I could continue with my commentary, but for the moment, I’ll just say I was overjoyed with your literary achievement. You said somewhere on your website that you were “proud” of A Listening Thing, and you should be.

Response by William Michaelian . . .
Thank you. And I appreciate these insightful remarks. For reference, let me quote the last paragraph of Chapter 8:

What matters, I think, is this: There are an awful lot of nice, unhappy people in the world who are stuck doing things they really shouldn’t be doing. They’re stuck because their backs are against the wall and they don’t want to starve. They’re stuck because they didn’t know how to stand up for themselves when they were kids. They’re stuck because they were tested and branded and herded into classrooms by frightened adults who, often with the best of intentions, brainwashed them into thinking they were doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, teachers, electricians, customs officers, store clerks, or mechanics. They’re stuck because, once upon a time, long ago, the human race took a wrong turn somewhere, and we’ve been dealing with it ever since. Take it from me. I know. I’m stuck, too.

Indeed, this “indictment,” as you put it, goes to the heart of the novel. While it leaves no one off the hook, it also points to a solution. But that solution can only come one person at a time. It can’t be legislated or mandated. Simply put, it is our responsbility to know ourselves, and to give our children the freedom to know themselves, and to encourage them to find and pursue their natural talents. No small task. The work takes a lifetime. But it also makes living worthwhile.

Submitted by Jacob Harrell (Tennessee) . . .
I love the way you blend cynical and optimistic elements together, making me feel ashamed and proud to be human all at the same time. A Listening Thing is a rare story, it forces us to take a look inside ourselves, and the world around us, to see if the things that lie therein are acceptable. Rarer still is the chance that it offers, the chance to change those not so little things about us, much like the chance Stephen is offered.

Response by William Michaelian . . .
I appreciate that. In my response to Lane Rasmussen’s comments above, I said that even years after I’ve written a story, I still find myself thinking about the characters “and wondering how they are getting along, as I do with friends and relatives I haven’t seen in a long time.” Anymore, I’ve begun to feel that way about the novel itself — as if it were a character or real person. As it is, I never really think of my fictional characters as anything other than real people, who, like the rest of us, go on with their lives after we lose contact. And so not only is Stephen real, the book about him has gradually become a character in my own life. It’s obvious to me now that both will remain with me until I die, or at least as long as my memory is functioning. I do enjoy hearing from them, and from people like you, who are kind enough to show them your hospitality.

Submitted by Rick Reiley (Cushing, Oklahoma) . . .
After stumbling onto A Listening Thing quite by accident (are there really such things?) I couldn’t do anything else until I finished it. All night, into the morning and here it is one o’clock in the afternoon and I’m still sitting here in my underwear, bleary eyed in quiet awe of this book. What a wonderful, wonderful read. I identify so much with Stephen and Mary.......the town, the people, the mother, the circumstances, my fifteen minutes of fame playing triangle in the 5th grade rhythm band Christmas show.

I guess it’s time to finally get up and get dressed, stick my head outside and see if there’s a world still out there.......thank you so much for the book.......best I’ve read in years.......

Response by William Michaelian . . .
Rick, I think the reading scene you just described would make a great billboard ad for the novel. I’ll send a photographer right out. Thanks very much for your tremendous response. I couldn’t ask for a better one.

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

Main Page
Author’s Note
A Listening Thing
Among the Living
No Time to Cut My Hair
One Hand Clapping
Songs and Letters
Collected Poems
Early Short Stories
Armenian Translations
Cosmopsis Print Editions
News and Reviews
Highly Recommended
Let’s Eat
Favorite Books & Authors
Useless Information
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