“Those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives —
power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as
times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”
When Amy Tan was asked to name a life-changing book, she expressed her admiration for Jane Eyre’s realistic and resourceful narrative voice, but quickly added that the book that most influenced her decision to write her best-selling debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, was Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. While this story is told by Chippewas — it is essentially a novel “bound by family, tragedy, and love,” notes Tan.
When a personal family event illuminated her own troubled relationship with her mother, Tan began to realize that the many of the same themes and issues she saw surfacing in Love Medicine among the Chippewas were also troubling the waters in her own Chinese family. Seeing the urgency and compassion that Louise brought to her story inspired Amy to believe that she, too, might tackle some of the same themes through her own cultural lens. Ultimately, The Joy Luck Club was the fruit of this belief. How wonderful to think that Amy’s beautiful book sprang, in part, from another writer’s literary journey!
It’s so fascinating how we can pick up a book that seems on the surface very far a field from our own subject, yet find that it provides a doorway to our work. To me, this is just one more example of how important it is to read anything and everything that we seem drawn to, no matter how unrelated it may seem to what we’re writing about. Who knows — we might find a scene, a theme, a structural device or a narrative voice that will spark an idea of priceless value. Write on.