In the process of reviewing two books Betty Smartt Carter raises some interesting questions about the role of meaning in novels. Carter reviews Lizzie’s War by Tim Farrington and The Missing Person by Alix Ohlin and both sound like interesting works. But what really interested me was the musings at the end where she compares the way the two books handle meaning:
As an opponent of forced meaning in novels, I sympathize with Alix Ohlin. I like her dry style and her lack of sentiment. She seems less predictably optimistic, less manipulative with our emotions, and therefore more honest than many writers. On the other hand, isn’t storytelling all about finding relationships between things? Isn’t that why we write and read novels – to prove to ourselves and each other that the world means something?
It’s not just sentiment, I think, that makes a novel like Lizzie’s War ultimately more appealing: It’s the author’s hopeful vision. Farrington portrays life not as we experience it, but as it looks beyond our experience, in a place where events and people do tie together in mysterious and even sacred ways. That transcendent viewpoint trumps even style, though we can always hope (being foolishly optimistic, I guess) to find more novelists who will give us both.
What say you? Is “storytelling all about finding relationships between things? Isn’t that why we write and read novels – to prove to ourselves and each other that the world means something?” I will offer some thoughts on this subject later, but in the meantime I would love to hear what others think.
I have an idea of how one person would react . . .