I’ve finally figured out why I love to read. It’s not just pure escapism, or meeting characters who move me enough to keep the pages turning. Good fiction shows life pared down to its essential parts. Characters might stand at the edge of a cliff and contemplate life, but you can bet they’re not thinking, “I wish I hadn’t had that last burrito. I really have to take a dump.” Unless its an Elmore Leonard novel. Then, all bets are off.
Many a novel can be summed up by the Friday Night Lights team slogan, Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t lose. I would put Jane Austen into this category. Any romance novelist, really, or writer of hard boiled detectives stories. The kind where they get their guy in the end. The opposite is also true. “Cloudy Eyes, Empty Hearts, Can’t Win.” A Word God like Cormac McCarthy can take us down the path of endless despair, yet leave us saying, ‘more, please.’
Fiction, as opposed to non fiction, (where one is obliged to save the whales, understand universal truths and free kidnapped journalists) allows us to inhabit the life of someone who feels real yet doesn’t exist. We enter the story, loaded with our own crap, and watch it dissolve in the acidic mix of the character’s own problems. One need never stand in front of a mirror and think about back fat. Or wonder why the skin above a cesarean scar insists on drooping like a goofy smile. Why brown spots appear on on the backs of hands and knees. Characters don’t wonder what’s for dinner unless its central to the story, which is almost never. Except in serial mysteries, where protagonists eat junk food daily and never gain weight.
I need a fresh translation for my life…a fictional character to take over for me. We all do. Someone to explain the trials and tribulations we suffer privately and publicly. Life, in all its ordinary, every dayness, is worthy of such a thing. The child you bore, labouring for hours. The scars on your heart. Your misunderstood soul. The world will read your story and sigh in affirmation.
We are the protagonists of our own story. The heroes, the demons, the ones who fall short and the ones who heroically climb a mountain while spouting Shakespeare or reciting poetry by an obscure yet talented writer. Deep inside each of us is a core of something so unique that it dazzles, or puzzles, or at the very least, leaves the readers of our story scratching their heads. If it doesn’t, it should. Because we all shine like the sun. Like the northern lights when you wake up at two in the morning and stand on the lawn in your front yard, gaping in wonder at the universe. We sparkle and shine, and light up the whole world. This is truth at its deepest and we know it. Even if we’re the only ones reading our story. It’s a Pulitzer, at the very least. A Giller, for sure, if we’re Canadian.
I have chosen Margaret Atwood to be my biographer. Or Matthew Quick. I can’t decide, and anyway, neither seems to be taking my calls. But whoever you pick to write the epic story that is your life, make sure that they really ‘get’ you. When the world reads it, you want to hear gasps of delight. Or horror, depending on the direction you’re going. Maybe an ooooh! Perhaps some applause. Something so good, they’ll make a movie of it for sure. The important thing is, your life will be out there for all to read. That’s worth celebrating. And yes, Brad Pitt can play your husband.