We writers are compelled by certain themes that are visited again and again in our work. For Philip Roth, it’s identity; for Mitch Albom, redemption; Curtis Sittenfeld writes about alienation. My theme is, and always will be, faith.
My faith is a tenuous thing. I had it once, and have longed for it ever since. It’s difficult to navigate the dark passages of life without believing there is some higher power at work, that there exists order where we see only randomness and chaos. My novel began with a question: How could an undertaker perform her work if she didn’t believe in God? I layered into that premise another question I struggle with daily: Why do children need to suffer, to die?
All week I’ve been revising my manuscript, refining particular details for clarity’s sake, while blurring finer points to create a sense of uncertainty. One revision I’d been considering has to do with faith. It was suggested to me by a trusted reader and I’ve struggled with his advice ever since. It went against what the members of my writers' group advised, but his was also a thoughtful critique and made me wonder if following his advice would create more depth to my story.
Yesterday when I sat down to tackle that revision, the phone rang with news that a friend’s daughter had died. She was diagnosed two years ago with a brain tumor and, until yesterday, was the epitome of a tenacious fighter. She was adorable, she was beloved, and she was only four. Why? Why did she die? The same tragedy happened to another friend four years ago when her 16-year-old son, a diabetic, went to bed one night and never woke again.
There’s no consolation to be given, none taken. How to explain the inexplicable? I suppose that’s why we write novels, so we can design worlds where we are omnipotent, where we can create our own semblance of order and write away our demons.
So, in spite of the thoughtful suggestion to make that revision, I expect to stay with what I have. I feel strongly that it works better for the story and is more satisfying for the reader. Mostly I need to create a sense of faith within myself where, for now, none exists.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007