“It is with fiction as it is with religion: it should present another world, and yet one to which we feel the tie.”
When I came across this comment tonight, it really stopped me cold. It’s such a simple statement and yet it’s so profound. Just think about any story that’s truly immersed you, a novel where you’ve totally lost yourself and entered another world. At first glance, it may seem that this world is totally new and unfamiliar to you, that it’s a foreign place where you feel a stranger. And yet, you don’t feel separate from it — there’s something that ties you to it, that connects you to it and lets you see your own world and life and choices and dreams reflected within it.
Just recently, I’ve been revisiting Madame Bovary for my reading group. What an amazing book! First published in the 1850s, it offers a scathing view of provincial France. In entering its pages, I feel I’ve entered a different world — and yet, it’s one in which I hear the echoes of my own. When Gustave Flaubert describes Charles Bovary’s painful boyhood entrance into a new school carrying an outlandish hat that makes him a laughingstock among his classmates, his shame was not unknown to me. And when he captures his heroine Emma’s dreamy escape into romance novels that offered her the vision of a world filled with gossamer phantoms, her longing for it to be real and to be part of it is a longing I know as well.
Once when Alex was little and we returned home from vacation, as we walked around our neighborhood, he said something wonderful: “Everything looks familiar but new.” As writers, our job is to create new worlds that somehow seem familiar. Write on.