Thursday, February 26, 2009

Something Missing

I See You Everywhere
by Julia Glass

Julia Glass is probably best known for Three Junes, which won the National Book Award several years ago. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Whole World Over, which she published in 2006. I See You Everywhere has many of the qualities that I have appreciated in her previous books - believable characters who struggle with real problems, rich descriptions, and plot lines that hold the readers' attention. She knows what she's doing - if I were a novelist, I would want to draw the readers into the narrative as deftly as she does.

However, there is one twist in I See You Everywhere that did not fully gel for me. (SPOILER ALERT) A major character (Clem) commits suicide. Of course, authors have to surprise us, that is part of what makes a story interesting, but this was such a surprise it did not feel real. The character is a fearless, adventurous type who frequently places her body at risk and her safety in jeopardy. That risk taking seems like more of a product of a lust for life and desire to experience it all than it does any kind of underlying despair. Clem does express frustration about the state of the world and the environment (she is a biologist who works to save endangered animals), but that is usually balanced by determination to do what she can and advocate for animals in both her personal and vocational lives. Then BOOM, she is dead and gone. Something in me just did not fully buy in. I think Glass could have given us more clues that would make the death more believable.

Something that troubles me about a lot of current fiction is that so many of the characters are so dismissive of any kind of religion or even spiritual life. Often, when faith is mentioned at all it is derisively, as if it is a fallback position for dummies or a quaint relic from medieval times. I am not looking for pap, or for easy answers (like "Oh, if Clem had more faith she would not have killed herself."), but I think that many writers are missing an opportunity to express the spiritual aspects of the struggles that we all have. There is an allusion to humankind's search for meaning when Clem is thinking of the seeming futility of some of her efforts and she asks herself "Oh, what is the POINT?" It's hard to describe what I am looking for - it is not necessarily God-language and certainly not systematic theology or dogma. I have no interest in the poorly written, agenda driven, formulaic stuff that we find on "Christian fiction" shelves. However, I think writers could make more effort to articulate the underlying yearning that so many people have to believe that there is something or someone else out there who cares about us and is making the journey with us. I think we all want to have a sense of meaning to life, some confirmation that it matters that we are here. I cannot help but wonder if the dismissal of religion found in so much fiction today reflects a dismissive attitude on the part of the writers themselves, which would be very sad. Of course some fiction writers DO deal with spiritual matters, and perhaps they would all say they do - I just think acknowledgement of faith and the role it plays (or can play) in life is lacking.

On another note, I found Louisa a difficult character to like. Talk about uptight and judgemental. Sheesh.

Reverent Reader


At 2/27/09, 10:53 PM , Blogger Steven said...

Re: " many of the characters are so dismissive of any kind of religion or even spiritual life." I have found this also, in a variety of fiction. Sometimes it's only a couple of sentences that seem to leap out (can the word "polemic" apply to only a sentence or two?)and I want to say, "Was that really necessary??" I'd even settle for the absence of the discussion rather than that.

At 3/1/09, 5:17 PM , Blogger Ruth said...

Enough readers like you and I could get my novel published! (self-serving comment #1)


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