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The New Heart of the Novel

January 26, 2010

The river, always in motion, seems to stay in one place.  The different waters repeat the same crests and troughs that come of trying to flow over boulders and over other waters.  In the same way the family, each child a new water, keeps the ups and downs belonging to that family, keeps the pattern through the generations.  And, while boulders under river water may create lovely patterns, trouble in families is not pretty.   Now at last, family troubles are not necessary.  Something can be done to strengthen the family, to make it possible for children to grow up joyful and confident.

Traditional novels have taken two distinctly different paths.  They have either shown life as it is or they have shown life as it ought to be.   Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens depicts the plight of orphans in nineteenth century England.  Alice Walker in The Color Purple also shows children growing up in desperate circumstances.  Harry Potter, on the other hand, by the force of his personal strength, overcomes a terrible foster home.  But, just as Oliver gets his happy ending from his parentage–while the rest of the orphans are unsaved, Harry gets his strength from his parentage.  We don’t learn much from Oliver or Harry about how to be strong–except to be born to the right people.  Nora Roberts writes stories in which love works, whether the love between a woman and a man or the love of a adult for a child.  In Sea Swept, for example, a man falls in love with a ten year old boy, his adopted brother, and falls in love also with the social worker in charge of the boy’s welfare.  These three, together with other brothers and a couple of dogs, create a satisfying family in which the ten year old can grow up with confidence in himself and in life.

These are good books by beloved writers.   There is a place for both kinds of fiction.  We need to view correctly the actual world and its flaws.  We also need to keep in mind an ideal picture of life, what it should be.  Roberts, for all that her story is warm and well-written, does not show us how to get from the flaws to the ideal.  Possibly she doesn’t know how–accept to show exceptional people whose courage and insight inform them.

Gideon’s River shows both the problems of life and a way forward into healing.  The novel is dedicated to all who have known the twin dramas we could call the bully and the wimp.  Watch for Gideon’s River, a novel about a family that starts in tears and anger and ends in hope.  Coming out this spring.

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