If I believe in anything I believe in narration; in telling the story. Not the tale I know to be true before sitting down to the blank page, but the legend I discover on the way to the last line. Not the exposition of truth but the exploration that sets what I know against what I do not yet understand.
The stories I tell are inhabited by characters who want to talk; who want to tell me everything they know. They are women and men, adults and children, people of every color and belief. They are liars and truth sayers and pious criminals who don’t understand themselves as doers of evil.
When I meet these characters on the unfinished pages of text I don’t understand them at first. Maybe I never do. I don’t know anything about them except, maybe, their tone of voice or their complaint. Some of my characters hate others; some become flatulent when they’re afraid; others simply don’t care about the things I hold dear—like life.
These characters meet each other and exert their wills and their obsessions. They eat and fornicate, sometimes they die. There are flashes from them throughout the text: smiles and sorrows and wishes that you might recognize out of your own experience.
A good book brings the writer, and later the reader, into a moral universe that they must come to grips with. This book is vacant of moral and ethical truth on its own. As the writer I simply wrote the words; I haven’t found answers or delivered any kind of fact.
The truth of a book, of any narrative, is in the mind of the reader. Each one of them creates their world out of the written word. They use the stories to comprehend their own lives and relations.
A good book touches you somewhere viscerally; not with a cognitive image. A good book brings out the feeling of a world and the nature of particular human beings.
Brings out, not defines.
There’s a long journey from the page into the mind of the reader. Colors change, odors rise up out of the unconscious, the turn of a phrase reminds a woman of fifty years ago when her father let her down.
These glimmerings and submerged psychological innuendos can make a powerful statement if the writer has followed one rule: that the writer has been true to the nature of everything he or she has seen.
Every spaghetti stain, every change of expression, every sigh and every sign. Every contradiction must have its moment in a novel because, contrary to what many think, a novel tries to get away from the truth while exulting in the chaos of human nature.
A domestic isn’t merely a servant. He’s a man, a sexual being, a hater of his own class maybe—a creature destined to die. If the writer can see these simple realities then she will evoke truth; conjure it up out of the souls and histories of her readers.
A character must never be turned into shorthand in a book. Shorthand limits the range of the narrative; it strangles the mind. This simple rule makes the novel the most powerful political tool we have. Because if we are looking to see, then understanding will arise. If we are following our senses into the world created by the narrative, then we will find out new things, we will be opened to the possibility that the world is not what we thought it was.
And a new world is what we need.
I believe in the world that might be. The world that we share through imagination and possibility. I believe in that feeling down in the gut that says, yeah, that’s the way it is, when one man dies and another, maybe less worthy man, crawls from the disaster to keep some forgotten idea alive.
That idea is all we have.