Friday, March 13, 2009

Pure Fiction

It may sound contradictory, but I find such truth in fiction. In noting last week’s passing of one of America’s most truthful dramatists, Horton Foote, NY Times columnist Frank Rich compared his work to that of Faulkner “in its ability to make his own corner of America stand for the whole.” So true. Mr. Foote called out characters from the cloud of witnesses that populated his life, shone a golden light on them and rendered them wholly recognizable to human beings everywhere.

That is the enormous challenge as well as the invaluable gift of fiction, to illuminate the human condition in such a way as to give the reader a glimpse into his or her own soul. When successful, such fiction can plant the seed of wisdom, it can provide a visceral recognition of oneself in the feelings and experiences of others, a holy realization that we are all the same, we are all valuable, we are all human.

One can read reams about the Gilded Age in history books, but the words of Edith Wharton can take one’s hand and lead the way right inside it. Read The Age Of Innocence or The House of Mirth and see what I mean. Or dig beneath the surface of Flannery O’Connor’s outrageous stories to find the grace cleverly hidden within. Feast at the banquet of glorious words concocted by Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway; words that resonate in the deepest parts of the soul, providing vital nourishment to those who did not even realize they were hungry. Or perhaps, try an amazingly lucid book I’ve just recently finished, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. Creative in its very form, it is a series of stories that consider the quiet existence of a few people in a coastal Maine village as the prickly character of Olive moves through their individual lives, sometimes directly, often on the periphery. I found it both compassionate and wise, a remarkable two way mirror allowing insight into the lives of others and into myself as well.

By the way, the late Horton Foote also penned the screenplay for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. And really, I have always felt that pretty much everything worth knowing can be found between the covers of that wondrous book.

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures”
Ralph Waldo Emerson