My Planets: a fictive memoir
Winner, 2012 Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Digital Narrative.
Imagine this. You’re 50 years old. An only child, from a Jewish family. The people you thought of as your mother and father are dead.
Then, in the middle of the night you get a phone call from the other side of the planet telling you they’ve found your mother. Alive. Your real mother. Suddenly, you become the oldest of seven across two families. All your assumptions about yourself are swept away.
From Ground Zero, you begin a journey of rediscovery to reclaim your identity. But the truths you gather are relative, subjective. Like speculating on the nature of the universe from the perspective of one planet and then again from another.
My Planets is in fact a suite of works – a physical book; an enhanced eBook incorporating images, music, sound and video with spoken word and text, a film, and now an interactive website.
Like most of David P Reiter’s work, it challenges the boundaries, changing shape with the message, inviting the reader to time-travel on a Tardis of the mind.
Making his planets your own.
Interested in the themes of adoption, the search for biological family members and the consequences of reunion for personal identity? Check out the My Planets Reunion Project Facebook site.
ISBN 9781921869556 (PB, 208pp);
|AUD $30||USD $24||NZD $33||GBP £18||EUR €22|
ISBN 9781921869563 (CD, with audio);
|AUD $25||USD $18||NZD $27||GBP £18||EUR €22|
|ISBN 9781921869570 (eBook)||AUD $17||USD $10||NZD $19||GBP £13.5||EUR €16|
At one level, David Reiter’s My Planets is extremely complex (verse, prose poems, autobiography, short fiction, photographs, etc.), but at another it is quite simple. The author, a Jewish only child, at the age of 50 with both his adoptive parents dad suddenly discovers his birth mother, Eileen, and that he is in fact the eldest of seven across the combined families of his genetic parents.
In common with the memoirs of many of other adoptees, Reiter’s also brings out the insecurity the process almost necessarily involves – and the long-standing question, "Why was I given up?" Luckily, Reiter’s adoptive parents were by-and-large supportive, though the death of his father when Reiter was only 11 was clearly a setback.
Reiter grew up in one of the poorer areas of Cleveland, Ohio, where he seems to have been one of the very few white kids in a black neighbourhood. A further isolation was that there were very few Jews in the suburb. His frustrations in this context and well brought out and there is a child-like envy of some of his (adoptive) relatives who live in the richer, white part of town. Reiter’s treatment of this early part of his life is almost a bilungsroman, albeit told in fragments.
What is equally remarkable, however, is the author’s more difficult attempt to capture the life and personality of the birth parents he never knew when young. The social context in the United States cities at the end of World War II is graphically brought out, including the sexual recklessness of the time and the psychological damage experienced by veterans, even by those who (like Reiter’s birth father) didn’t see combat. In prose sections like "What a Girl’s Got to Do" and "Dancing Sinatra", Reiter very convincingly recreates a sense of a woman who is drawn to sexual adventure and who feels that a more luminous fate should await her than her circumstances allow. It’s hard to know how much of this material Reiter heard directly from his mother after he met her again and how much he fictionalised from the raw data his birth family must have supplied after the reunion. In either case, it’s done with both an understanding of the times and considerable empathy and affection.
Some readers may wonder why the book is so consciously fragmented and perhaps why Reiter has arranged his material in terms of the planets of our solar system (and the classical myths associated with them). A part explanation might be that the materials of his book are either remembered in fragments or came to him later in that manner.
Another, perhaps, is to give the story of his early life (and those of his relatives, biological and adoptive) a wider resonance, to place himself and them in more universal context. Some may consider the dramatic monologues spoken by some of the planets as distractions from the "real" story but, as Reiter’s concise outlines of some of their associated myths implies, our human behaviours are often influenced by factors well beyond our own knowledge and/or control (including the eternal patterns of mythology).
My Planets is also available from the publisher as an enhanced eBook, which pushes the fragmentation principle even further by adding more images, sound, music and film."
– Geoff Page, The Canberra Times
"David Reiter’s provocative fictional multimedia memoir combines a textual narrative with a rich tapestry of audio, video and animation to explore the meaning of family, connectivity and identity. The planets provide both a narrative structure and a shifting series of perspectives asking not just how we understand who we are, but how that story shifts with different sets of eyes. This is a profound digital narrative which both makes the most of the various possibilities of the digital realm whilst weaving a provocative, engaging and all too human tale."
– Judges’ Report, WA Premier’s Book Awards
"David Reiter subtitles his latest book ‘a fictive memoire’, which is an essentially contradictary term and at the same time complementary. If ‘fictive’ is make-believe and ‘memoire’ is autobiography, where do the two come together?
In My Planets Reiter weaves memories of his own upbringing as a white Jewish boy in an American inner-city, with present-day musings of a fifty year-old American Australian who has just found his birth mother after his adoptive parents have died. These stories, presumably, are true. He also gives a third-person account of his birth mother’s and father’s memories. These, presumably, are not. And I’m not saying that they are false, it’s just that one cannot write about one’s conception from the points of view of the lovers without using a bit of imagination. After Reiter’s father recounts his nightmares of fighting Nazi soldiers in the war, he writes:
The real moon came out from behind a cloud just then, and he looked so pale to her, like an abandoned child. She eased down, covered him with her body. (26)
This has to be imagined. And it is beautifully imagined. These were my favourite passages in the book.
The book is divided into nine parts, each given the title of a planet. This works as a structural link to the psyche of Reiter who, as a child, always felt he didn’t quite belong and must have come from outer space and who, as an adult, lives on the other side of the world from where he was born, seeing a whole new set of stars. Each first chapter of each part is told in the voice of the specific planet so each planet, too, has a story to tell. This suggests that stories are both ancient and endless, and no particular story carries any more weight than the next. I love the writing of the planets and think them a clever strand for Reiter to work with, but conceptually I think it has been taken too far: the book’s title, its cover, the black and white photographs of the solar system throughout the book. Too much ‘planets’.
Alongside crossing over from fiction to memoire, from first person to third person narration and from human to inanimate narrator, Reiter also plays with form. He weaves poetry into prose, and some memories bear both of those titles. This seems a very natural way for a poet/novelist to write and Reiter seems to do it organically. Yet with all of these juxtaposing styles it is no surprise that the chronology of the telling is all over the place: back and forth, and sometimes repetitive. But this is the way memory works. When we think of a person from our past, we don’t create a timeline of images. We remember in a much more fluid way. Though this doesn’t make for gripping storytelling, it does experiment with memory and art, and so the story is told uniquely. I think the patchwork craft of the book works well for Reiter, placing it in the overall literary genre. But with it comes some confusion as to where all of the names fit into the family, and into which family they fit (we are, after all, talking about two mothers, two fathers, both of their mothers and fathers, several siblings, aunties and uncles and children). A family tree at the beginning of the book would have helped this confusion but, given that the crux of the book lies in its disjointed telling, a little confusion doesn’t hurt.
Reiter is the founding publisher for IP, which is an interactive press publishing poetry and fiction in print, e-books and multimedia. A ‘Reunion Page’, as an accompaniment for the book, is soon to be published on IP’s website, but for now you can visit it on http://www.facebook.com/MyPlanetsReunionMemoir."
– Heather Taylor Johnson, Transnational Literature
I am a writer myself, and this work shows me just how many new tricks the simple book still has up its sleeve. There are some amazing samples of it available online, if you go to http://ipoz.biz/myplanets.
The online version is a knockout multimedia show, but there is more poetry here in this version. I met the author when he won the Digital Narrative category in the 2012 WA Premier’s Book Awards, in which I shared the Children’s Literature category. I heard his acceptance speech, and I had a chat with him after. I sensed that this was something different.
I was right. This is a book I will keep coming back to, for the joy of reading, and also to learn more of my craft. Aspiring writers are advised to do likewise–and aren’t ALL readers, at least in their hearts, aspiring writers?
– Peter Macinnes, Feral Word Herder
David P. Reiter
IP released his novel Liars and Lovers in 2003, and The Greenhouse Effect, a junior novel in the Project Earth-mend Series is now, in its 2nd edition, being developed into a film.
He's completed a full-length DVD film of Hemingway in Spain. Real Guns is a children's picture book illustrated by Irish artist Patrick Murphy. Global Cooling, a sequel to The Greenhouse Effect, was released in 2008. His most recent works are Primary Instinct, a satire on primary school education, Tiger Tames the Min Min, the third Project Earth-mend novel and the short film Nullarbor Song Cycle, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Western Australian Premier's Award.
LinksThe My Planets Reunion Memoir interactive website
David's Wordpress page
David's Google Profile
Mercury can only be seen at twilight, and only then if you know where to look.
I was always attracted to twilight when I was a boy. Summer was a magical time. Fireflies arose from nowhere just as the noise of the city began to fade with the heat. In winter, snowflakes faded to grey before being freshened by streetlamps.
One twilight, the man I knew as my father took me out with a Palomar telescope he'd bought me for my seventh birthday. The largest mirror, at the base of a plastic cylinder, caught the image of the planet, and reflected it on to a smaller mirror, which bounced it onto the lens. So you saw only the apparition of your target as a cooling light wave.
Mercury was small, but I did make it out through the telescope, once. It was a quivering violin string for seconds before vanishing into the darkness.
I pestered my father to find Mercury for me again, but he refused. He doubted that I had seen it at all. Venus and Mars and even Jupiter were easier, he said. For Mercury, you had to be in the right place at the right time. My father thought himself unlucky. And I guess he saw no reason to dwell on it by pursuing Mercury night after night.
Until he passed it on his way to the stars.
My Evening Star
Venus. Venus. Some nights I would escape from our flat to a park with trees that blocked out the street lights just so I could gaze up at her. How could she be a planet and the Evening Star? A goddess veiled in gases that were beautiful from afar but poison to anyone who ventured too close.
I imagined her as my birth mother. Watching over me before fading into a dark hood of stars. She'd made her choice, but her secret would be safe with me.
She was pure art before the thunder. And she had not forgotten me.
Venus had no moons, so I wanted to believe my mother had no other children. She would know better than to disturb a perfect dream.
Quiet child, problem child – that was me in Grade One. And Miss Courtney demanded respect. A spinster, she had no children, so she scratched all day in chalk on slate. We were to echo, absorb, in silence.
One day, she heard a whistling behind her as she drew addition tables on the blackboard. She wheeled around and accused me. The Earth stammered on its axis.
'David doesn't know how to whistle,' Stephanie insisted. She wasn't Jewish, or even White, but she was my friend.
Miss Courtney still sent me to stare at a corner for the rest of the day.
Next morning, my mother marched in like General Eisenhower. 'How dare you?' she shouted in Miss Courtney's face. 'How dare you?'
It wasn't an act of love, but it was the closest she'd ever come.
Don't Shoot the Robot
I was under instructions:
sift the sand for water
find a narrative
in the canals
But the sand played dead
and the rocks gave me
the cold shoulder
It didn't help calling them
by Greek names
a dead Greek tells no lies
unless he writes for a living
What is this fascination we have
with ricocheting our inertia
Here, the Valles Marineris
is a Ground Zero wider than America's
marble arias, a litany of bin ladens
OK. Water may have sculpted these rocks
while the Earth cooled – there,
does that make you feel any better?
But your science flies at half-mast, Carl,1
and your doubts are showing.
1 Sagan, the Astrophysicist
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