In I3. The Agony is Over Dan sculpts himself from froth. I had considered joining this section to the one before it. Both sections are barely 1000 words, and relatively little happens in them: Dan says nothing and hardly moves twenty feet. Most of these sections are devoted to disturbing imagery.
In a narrative sense, these sections could be considered a waste of time. They hardly move the plot forward even if they explore Dan as a character. We don’t learn anything new about the afterlife, as we’ve been there twice before. If these sections are a waste of time, should they be shortened or cut?
Maybe. But I like these sections as they are. Here are a few notes in defense of wasting time.
1. The reader needs time to process.
Not every chapter can kill a main character, kill a main character’s dad, reveal secrets about an antagonist, and propose a cognitive explanation for religious experience. This is a chance for the reader to lean back from the heavier fare of Chapter H and enjoy an unadulterated glimpse at the Teeth that Shriek.
2. These scenes let me experiment with our thematic imagery.
Dan is initially an amoeba, a formless mass, tabula rasa, a blank slate. But Dan’s feelings of anger and guilt manifest as the Teeth that Shriek. Once he collects himself he decomposes into a puddle of water and a pile of worms. Faith carries the worms away and the puddle recreates Dan entirely. If worms represent the physical aspects of human existence, the puddle is the intangible aspects.
Dan is an allusion to Dante Alighieri, the poet, and Dante, the character in The Divine Comedy (as it’s not clear the author meant his character to literally be himself). Dante, the character, is something of an allegorical everyman. His journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven is a tour for the reader of the possible outcomes of life. My Dan is also an everyman; he’s a specific person, but he represents man’s mortal nature.
His experience building himself out of water shows that man’s nature is not based on his raw physicality. When the worms are gone, some water remains. From the foam of this water we sculpt ourselves.
3. This is necessary for Jay to know, to provide tension.
The character ‘DanJay’ begins as Dan, dies, and is reincarnated as Jay with hardly any memory. Jay is not the mortal everyman like Dan: Jay has transcended death in his reincarnation. If death isn’t an obstacle, where is the tension in Akayama DanJay?
When Jay hears about Dan’s experience with the Teeth that Shriek, it must be like remembering trauma buried deep. Jay was Dan. He knows precisely what’s at stake when he messes with centipedes and the afterlife. If Jay has a bad trip, or if he dies and wakes in the afterlife, he might be trapped forever in a ball of shrieking teeth. Could he save himself again, or was Dan’s reconstruction a lucky fluke?
Overall these scenes might not move the narrative forward, but they contribute something invaluable to the narrative anyway. Every story benefits from breaks in the action, thematic clarity, and high stakes. In Akayama DanJay the worst possible ending is eternal, self-inflicted torment.