f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: The Weird Consolation of "Just Good" Fiction

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Weird Consolation of "Just Good" Fiction

First, before she's forced to post a lone shout out again...congrats to Mary DeMuth and, well, the country of France for their one-nil World Cup win that advances them to the final against Italy. Based on cuisine alone...I'm sorry Mary, but I'd have to go with Italy. Based on cool bald guys, I'd go with Zinedine Zidane and France. Mostly I just want to forget that neither the US nor the "Please Don't Call Us Ivory Coast" Cote D'Ivoire made it past round one.

(If you have nothing but time, go to YouTube and watch any Argentinian goal you can find. They had some incredible scores this year.)

Okay, onto fiction.

I read an encouraging book this weekend. Encouraging because it wasn't the greatest thing I'd ever read. It was interesting, definitely thought-provoking. But not one of those immaculate masterpieces that spoon out equal doses of awe and self-doubt. It was Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead.

I'm not insinuating Whitehead's not a terrific author. I've heard nothing but good about John Henry Days and his Intuitionist is one of the most unexpected and intriguing books I've read in recent years. In fact, I still mull over that odd little mystery now and then...and when it comes down to it, I know there's no way I could've written that book.

Usually, I'm just glad to be along for the ride, but occasionally there's an odd poignancy to such a realization. It's one thing to acknowledge I'm a limited writer, but it's another to think I may not even be close to thinking the right things to write about. The Intuitionist, The Gold Bug Variations, Kavalier and Clay--I'm not even in their neighborhood when I'm thinking of ideas.

Then comes Apex. Something in the theme resonated with thoughts I've had myself on nomenclature, the mystery of names and words, and a handful of other topics. This was a neighborhood I finally recognized. And while Whitehead took his own emminently justifiable path through such locales, I didn't feel like they were the only path he could have taken. He didn't "own" this territory and, perhaps it's just egotistical of me, but part of me thinksI could lead a pretty interesting tour as well.

Has this happened to you? Again, please, in no way take this as me saying I'm an equal to Colson Whitehead as a writer. Or really even close. But in Whitehead not fully owning the ground he tackles it feels like there's a whisper of hope. "I could come close to this." Scheudenfreude is an awful, anti-Christian emotion...but it can spark the competitive juices. Or it does in me at least.