Debbie's post on Wednesday got me thinking about devastation. She rightly noted that it is an overwrought phrase found on too many jacket flaps. I haven't used the word in my proposals, but I still had the feeling of getting my hand smacked on the way to the cookie jar. I mean, if Talking to the Dead wasn't a story about personal devastation, then Bob's my auntie. Somehow I managed to wade through without using the word. Skin of my teeth.
I believe that all fiction is spiritual because all fiction (even the cheesy paperbacks we hide under our beds) is the exploration of what it means to be human. The human experience is the spiritual experience. And fiction is the human experience under duress. It asks, what is your mettle? What does it matter if you and I were born and grew and cried and wandered and settled and died?
Life asks more of us then we are wont to part with sometimes. We go through seasons of sorrow, loss, ill health, depression, bad bosses, divorce, abuse, or self-hatred and long for them to end - or better to have never happened at all. We turn to fiction to assure us, in a way only fiction can, that we will rise again. That in the midst of the gut wrench, there is lasting meaning. We ask, what worth is suffering? And fiction replies, come close and I'll show you.
When I read impossibly great stories such as Let The Great World Spin, History of Love, Latayne's upcoming novel A Conspiracy of Breath, I'm pulled into the levels of loss, the degrees of suffering common to the human experience. And inside these stories I find I am stretching my hand in front of me, working hard with the story to reach the goal. What is the goal? I suspect there are many ways to say it, many forms it takes, but for me, the goal it to touch beauty.
I can survive the ripping away as long as you can help me see the beauty in the pain. And I'll need help seeing it. Fiction is our helper. It reaches into our untapped reserves and helps us practice living within the safe confines of imagination. It's a stage on which we can rehearse our truth by examining the truths presented to us in story. And the whole time it whispers, Look for what lasts. Don't look away when it hurts. Find meaning. Picture yourself as a rising Phoenix. Touch beauty.
In the end, we all want to trade our ashes for beauty.
What purposes have you found for fiction? Has it shored you? Been a lasting example of hope? A warning? Has it helped you touch beauty?