August 11, 2020
No one wishes to be frivolous about the current pandemic. It’s real and should be respected. Wear the mask. Don’t stand close. Pay attention to who is around you. Etc.
There is an aspect of the virus, though, that for me is no problem at all. I spent many years in corporate business, an endeavor that I did not much enjoy and am glad to have left, a departure that took place about fifteen years ago. Business did allow me to make some money, which very much helped in raising a family. It also enabled me to hone my skills as a conversationalist, skills that were always with me anyway, even without business. (Although, these days, business is so often done with computer engineers, with whom it is almost impossible to carry on a conversation. They know so little—I mean, what can you say with just a zero and a one?—and have few tools to clearly express that vacancy. But that’s another subject, for another day.)
I’ve been pursuing a different profession since I left business, which is to write fiction. One can argue that that’s hardly a profession, since it is close to impossible to make enough money to support yourself and a family on creative-writing-wages. But the one thing you must have to make that pursuit fruitful is time alone. I suspect no one has ever completed a novel while working in one of those workplace offices that have been the rage for the last few decades. Everybody in one room, long tables, workstations everywhere, noise and blather everywhere, and no privacy.
For the writer, solitude is the requirement for doing fiction. You are always alone and, if you have talent, are always involved in a complicated conversation with yourself. This sort of thing can often be difficult, which I think explains the bad fiction being written today, which, as far as I can see, is most of it. In a turmoil-ridden, dark world, many fiction writers fall into the trap of being driven into that darkness. So, these days we have buckets of novels written about how featureless life is. They are often slim volumes about small lives, in the manner of, say, Camus’s The Stranger, as in this, written by Camus himself: “She wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t.” It may be that Camus was a good writer…maybe. At least he’s interesting in his character Meursault’s emotional dismissal of himself and everyone around him. But most of the contemporary novels that I’ve attempted reading that try to explain the current emotionally plain, viewless atmosphere are themselves viewless. Plain, as well. Yes, they give you an idea of what it is to live in these times of Corona virus shutdown and braggart presidential cluelessness. But, to get that, all you need do is look around. To write well about it is another matter. Simply spelling out the emotional failure that is the main subject of contemporary fiction —- one novel after another —- isn’t enough.
But, of course, the fine novel, rare as it is, is out there. You must keep looking. At least for now, García Márquez will have to do. His work still has it in spades, although his time has passed. Edith Wharton too, although even she would have trouble these days, since so much of her work depended on fascinating conversation between compelling women. Wharton’s characters were unhappy, but very much more than just unhappy.
It’s out there, that novel. It’s being written now…somewhere. We mustn’t give up. We’ll find it.
Terence Clarke’s novel The Splendid City, with Pablo Neruda as the central character, has been translated to Spanish by Chilean novelist Jaime Collyer. It will be published as La espléndida ciudad later this year.
#fiction #writingfiction #literaturaenespañol