Sunday, June 26, 2011
Godlike Qualities--and Difficult Moral Choices
--Leah Hager Cohen, NYT Book Review, Sunday, June 26, 2011
Working away on my new Jane Eyre series, I find this quotation to be particularly apt. Authors bring to life people, give them names and personalities. It's part of the job to determine how their characters look and what habits they have. If the author is successful, then her readers will accept them as real. That's when the fun begins.
This weekend I came up to DC, taught a class on journaling, and sold books at the Great American Scrapbook Convention. A tiring weekend, to be sure, but also a gratifying one. The best part? When readers came to my table and started talking about Kiki Lowenstein and Detweiler and Mert as though these characters were living, breathing people that we knew in common. I delight in how my readers have distinct opinions about what should happen next in Kiki's life.
One woman came up, introduced herself and said, "I'm the only person in my book club who thinks Kiki should marry Ben. He's a good guy. Detweiler has too many issues. Everyone else disagrees with me, but I really like Ben and he'd make a good husband."
That says to me that I've made my characters realistic, because if readers don't care, I haven't fleshed out the people I create. Authors differ in their opinions on this, but I'm definitely in the character-driven fiction camp. If you don't care about the characters, you won't want to spend time with them, IMHO. Even a "bad guy" can be fascinating if he/she has redeeming qualities. Or if the "bad guy" is such a complex, rich study of the best and worst of what humanity has to offer. Case in point: Casey Anthony.
I've been following that case, and I've come to believe it's like watching a train wreck in slow mo. In particular, I found myself glued to the screen when her mother testified that she, not Casey, had googled "chloroform." My heart ached for the woman. She's lost her grandchild, and now faced with losing her daughter to the death penalty, she's decided that she'd rather lie and protect the child she has, rather than watch her child be sentenced to death. That's a powerful study in conflict, isn't it? Where does maternal love end and justice begin? Most of us would throw ourselves under a bus rather than have our children hurt, and that's exactly what Cindy Anthony is doing.
And yet, there's such a fascinating symmetry, an odd irony, because Cindy's love--while misguided--for her child is so powerful that she'll obviously do and say ANYTHING to protect her little girl.
But Casey didn't feel that way. Did she?
What do you think?
PS That's a Zentangle I did while at the Convention.