This Week’s Column:


by Dennis Loy Johnson

February 11, 2002 — A recent development in the book world has inspired me to return to work on my novel, "The Story of My Hair." I'd put the manuscript down for a while after its last rejection, by famous 14–year–old editor Amber "Sand" Hunnesucker at Gigunda House. She had suggested that I cut the first 1200 pages but I had refused, at which point she rejected me out of hand. Depression ensued. However, as I say, a new development has revived me.

The development I'm referring to is the recent rash of publications of "restored" versions of "classic" novels — novels put back together the way the writer originally had them before some demented editor got his or her filthy hands on them and ruined them.

Thus, within the last couple of years we've gotten new versions of books by writers who previously were viciously suppressed, writers such as William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, Richard Wright, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And reading them in their pre–edited states is enough to cause one to say to oneself, "Hmm, maybe these guys aren't so bad after all."

One might also notice that they never restore women — oh, for the unexpurgated Edith Wharton! — but that's another column.

Anyway, this, from a writer's standpoint, is an epochal development, freeing the novel at last from the petty tyranny of comma–counting and hell–bent–for–erasure editors, who, as we all know, are usually just some failed and miserable writer looking for somebody to take it out on. The glorious upshot of it all is that now we have a new version of Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel" that is 629 pages long, or 191 pages longer than it used to be! The title's been changed, too. The new version goes by the far zippier "O Lost." Oh boy!

And Robert Penn Warren's clunker, "All the King's Men"? It comes alive in its new version, thanks to an extra 214 pages! It now consists of 736 pages of pure, unrevised and so unadulterated power. Plus, the "King" character — he used to be known as Willie "Stark," but now he's Willie "Talos," a name that has something to do with Greek mythology, I don't know what. But still — myth, novel — get it? Better, no? You just don't get that je ne sais quoi from a name like "Stark." It's too — well, stark.

Now, I know, I know, all my old fogy readers are saying to themselves: "This is worse than when I had to buy all my records over again as CDs!" Or maybe, "This is worse than when I had to sit through the director's cut of 'Dances With Wolves'!" (Re–released as: "Dances With Wolves and Prairie Dogs.")

But hear me, people, and hear me hard: This is a good thing.

It reminds me of another craze, during the early 80s, when standard–length pop songs on 45s were made over as extended "dance–dub" versions. If it wasn't for this development, we wouldn't have gotten the more richly textured dance–dub version of, say, "In A Gadda da Vida" that, at nine hours and twenty–seven minutes long — including an eight–hour drum solo — allows us to fully appreciate the magic that was Iron Butterfly.

But for those of you who are too young to have any idea at all of what in God's name I'm talking about, I return to what this development — the director's cut imperative — means to the form of the novel.
It means that the relationship between the reader and the writer is now a direct line. No more interference from soul–dead editors who don't understand that just because a reader's eyes are closed it doesn't mean they're sleeping. It means they are participating in what Coleridge called "the suspension of disbelief." It means that they have achieved a state of oneness with a writer's text.

By now, your mind is probably racing with joyous thoughts of the complete works of John Grisham, Stephen King, or, perhaps especially, Joyce Carol Oates, all reissued in volumes that are twice as long and completely unedited!

But let me leave you with a more precise idea of the imperative's direct application.

In my novel, I can now "restore" the 1200–page dream scene that I deleted before I showed the manuscript to "Sand" Hunnesucker (and before she outrageously suggested still another 1200–page cut). I can also "restore" the 294 characters another editor made me excise (a baseball team, two football teams, an entire small college and a welder.)

In addition, the character another editor suggested I call "Pete" can be returned to the original "Lucille."

Can you just begin to get a sense of the magic?

Oh yes, and henceforth, the book will be known by the title it originally had before an editor mangled it beyond all recognition. It's now back to its original, splendiferous "The Story of My Hairs."

Last Week’s Column: MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH Amazon made money, Jonathan Franzen kept talking, MobyLives got smeared by Lingua Franca's publisher — time for an update on continuing stories.


Write to Moby
Letters policy: All letters must be signed. Also, please say where you’re writing from — either an affiliation or hometown.
All material not otherwise attributed ©2002 Dennis Loy Johnson.