f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Hurricane Jordanna—Writing About Larger-Than-Life Characters

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Hurricane Jordanna—Writing About Larger-Than-Life Characters

When faced with the problem of the larger-than-life personality, most novelists choose the wise route of placing that character just to the side of focus and allow a smaller, secondary narrator to act as witness for us. The thinking seems to be at least twofold. One, we need the “normal” viewpoint of a detached narrator to give us the perspective that makes the character actually seem larger-than-life. Big, by itself, isn’t big. Second, as in real life, too much of a larger-than-life character can be draining or overwhelming for most of us. We like them, but tolerate them best in small doses much like sherry or nutmeg or Robin Williams.

The prototypical example of an observant narrator seems to be Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, though Fitzgerald had some axes to grind and Nick ended up sitting more in a place of judgment rather than as just an unbiased observer.

Basch, nothing if not bold, chooses NOT to move Jordanna stage left the typical amount of steps. Instead, she unleashes this, as she’s described in the book, “dangerously tall” pastor at us like a force of nature. And it works. Why?

First, because she hedges her bets a little. About 40% of the chapters in the book are narrated by Jordanna’s cynical and agnostic sister, Abby. No passive observer, Abby’s view of her sister is a direct challenge, often to what we might think of Jordanna and certainly to what Jordanna thinks about herself. What we realize is the toll knowing someone so powerful often takes on those closest. We also realize that, despite Abby’s insinuations, Jordanna is not without self-awareness.

That’s Basch’s second coup. She manages to actually get underneath the hurricane to the human inside. Larger-than-life people can be found all throughout our world. Too often there’s a tendency to either set them on a pedestal or try to play king of the hill with them. Basch does her readers a great service by actually attempting to discover what machinations and holy gears makes Jordanna Nash run. The process is not easy and rife with contradictions, but it’s a worthy process.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the fact that Jordanna is a female pastor and a number of other thorny theological issues that this book confronts, some face on and some through the back door.