Being John Malkovich came to mind. It was discarded and then reappeared. Quite the tenacious little association. CE, a B< struck me as being a mirror image of BJM, its structural counterpart, in a way its negative.
You'll probably remember the scene with the multiple JMs in the restaurant. In retrospect, it's the only scene where the movie transcends its premise, which is basically a conservative, almost Christian one. Contrary to popular belief and in spite of critical acclaim and other assorted kudos, the movie celebrates a static, Platonic take on identity. The ability to highjack an identity simply presupposes identity as fixed. The logic of possession and exorcism can only thrive on the solid ground of stable categories - but perhaps we'll need one of the other Chris Eatons to further enlighten us on this topic.
In the restaurant scene, the movie trips over its own auctorial obsession and falls, ass over teakettle, in the realm of uncanny multiplicity. Unfortunately, there only the one restaurant scene in BJM.
The bulk of material in CE, a B consists of restaurant scenes, i.e. stuff that lifts identity out of the hinges of the fixed and stable. It doesn't address the arbitrary nature of identity, but performs it.
So why did you decide to include the non-restaurant scenes, i.e. the reflections and ruminations on what is going on? It's a double strategy: in pulling the reader aside, explaining to him that identity's jurisdiction only stretches as far as the story (or stories) will allow it, you seem to re-center and confirm positions - and thus identities. Or: why did the auctorial puppeteer have to show his face?
You know, I never really thought of <em>BJM</em> like that. Although I also haven’t thought about the movie for a long time, so perhaps that’s exactly what I was thinking. I really like that observation, though. I think a lot of the more self-reflexive parts came out of conversations with my editor, who felt that a periodic nod to the game would welcome the reader in.
Clearly neither of us wanted to make any of the scenes concrete by drawing overt attention to shifts in character, or by including some sort of legend in the side margin whereby the reader could always know which Chris Eaton was in the current starring role, so instead, because the book is about identity, I had some of the Chris Eatons ruminate on that for a bit.
To some extent, when I first started writing those parts, it didn’t feel quite genuine. But then I realized, from a musical standpoint (which is probably a good parallel to how I approach writing fiction), thinking about the rhythm and crescendos and held notes, the sustained tension, that the self-reflexive parts provided a breath, a point where the book, for a brief moment at least, steps outside of a Chris Eaton and lets you shake your arms out a bit.
Some of those moments also allowed more Chris Eatons to exist in tighter formation, skimming through a half dozen or more in a few sentences, maybe making things like gender shifts (problematic not because of the sex or gender of the Chris Eaton but because of the change in pronouns, particularly when “she,” up to that point, has been referring to Chris Eaton’s mother or sister) a little more fluid, and opening the door up for the later chapters when more of the Chris Eatons are combined. I could see it still working without them. Aside from scenes where the Chris Eaton is reading about other Chris Eatons in the newspaper, I don’t recall many of them in the first draft. But the first draft was also not organized from birth to death in the same way that the end product is. And I’m glad I made both of those changes because the nods it makes to traditional narrative is what opens the conversation to how we take identity and try to structure it to make meaning.