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"Life doesn't have to prove itself."

In The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers, Shirley Hazzard (talking with Vendela Vida) discusses the place of coincidence in fiction:

Hazzard: In that same book (The Transit of Venus) I say a similar thing: that one wouldn't dare put into a novel the amount of coincidence that occurs in life itself.

Vida: Yes, one of the characters says: "I've thought there may be more collisions of the kind in life than in books." Maybe the element of coincidence is played down in literature because it seems like cheating or can't be made believable. Whereas life itself doesn't have to be fair or convincing.

Hazzard: Life doesn't have to prove itself. Life happens; we have to accept it. Reading fiction, the disbelieving, skeptical critic likes to feel in control. Yet his own existence, all existence, is subject to the accidental element, to the inexplicable or magical, or dreadful intervention that cannot be justified by logic.

I completely agree with her, partly because I'm facing a similar quandry with publishers' reactions to my novel, Wheatyard. Not with coincidence - nobody has yet questioned the plausibility of the narrator (a recent business school graduate) first encountering the eccentric, reclusive writer Wheatyard. Instead, questions have been raised as to why the narrator becomes so fascinated/obsessed with Wheatyard.

I think I did address this question - as I tell in the story, just a few weeks after graduation, the unemployed narrator has already begun to doubt the corporate finance career he once so thoroughly believed in, with his growing disillusionment making him more receptive and attracted to Wheatyard's independent lifestyle and outsider status. Not that the narrator is eager to embrace that sort of lifestyle himself, but it does show him another side of life that he hadn't experienced before, with Wheatyard's sudden appearance becoming an interesting diversion from his own depressing prospects. Of course I could have spelled out the point more bluntly, but bluntness is something I generally hate in fiction. I'm a quiet, subtle person, and I'd rather tell my stories quietly and subtly than hit the reader over the head with my message. I don't understand the need to baldly explain everything - Why is the narrator so fascinated with Wheatyard? - when the reader could easily take the cues I've given and answer the question himself.

Just as Shirley Hazzard doesn't feel the need to justify coincidence, I don't feel the need to justify my narrator's every motivation. That's just how he is. I've already explained enough.

November 16, 2011 in Books, Wheatyard | Permalink

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