Fiction is a Lens on the World

"But I'll tell you a secret, Cory. Want to hear it?"

I nodded.

"No one," Mrs. Neville whispered, "ever grows up."

I frowned. What kind of secret was that? My dad and mom were grown-up, weren't they? So were Mr. Dollar, Chief Marchette, Dr. Parrish, Reverend Lovoy, the Lady, and everybody else over eighteen.

"They may look grown-up," she continued, "but it's a disguise. It's just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won't let them. They'd like to shake off every chain the world's put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for one day. They'd like to feel free, and know that there's a momma and daddy at home who'll take care of things and love them no matter what. Even behind the face of the meanest man in the world is a scared little boy trying to wedge himself into a corner where he can't be hurt." She put aside the papers and folded her hands on the desk. "I have seen plenty of boys grow into men, Cory, and I want to say one word to you. Remember."

"Remember? Remember what?"

"Everything," she said. "And anything. Don't you go through a day without remembering something of it, and tucking that memory away like a treasure. Because it is. And memories are sweet doors, Cory. They're teachers and friends and disciplinarians. When you look at something, don't just look. See it. Really, really see it. See it so when you write it down, somebody else can see it, too. It's easy to walk through life deaf, dumb, and blind, Cory. Most everybody you know or ever meet will. They'll walk through a parade of wonders, and they'll never hear a peep of it. But you can live a thousand lifetimes if you want to. You can talk to people you'll never set eyes on, in lands you'll never visit." She nodded, watching my face. "And if you're good and you're lucky and you have something worth saying, then you might have the chance to live on long after--" She paused, measuring her words. "Long after," she finished.

~ Robert McCammon, Boy's Life, 186-7

McCammon, in that passage, perfectly distills a central lesson I try to impart upon my students in our literature courses in the college: receive life.

Our days are filled with wonder and potential, but only if we accept those moments and analyze them. A critical theorist I admire calls those moments in literature, and in life, "reception moments." It's up to the reader, and to the individual, to throw off the limitations of the mundane and celebrate life beyond mere novelty.

It's that observational quality that makes good fiction work, and boy is McCammon's fiction filled with fantastic detail and taut writing...


Jean said...

I don't really have anything deep or meaningful or relevant to say. I just wanted to acknowledge your post, and to say how much I agree with you. "Boy's Life" is one of my favorite McCammon books (I can't choose just one!), and it always gives me a thrill to see someone recognize the incredible writing, especially a fellow author and a professor.

Daniel W. Powell said...

Hi Jean,

Thanks for dropping by. I'm with you--can't say anything more to advance the discussion because McCammon's prose does all the talking.

Loved Gone South as well, but Boy's Life is my favorite. It just strikes me as a fine coming-of-age tale, a really solid historical artifact on the American South and a good example of effective magic realism.

Hope the writing is going well!

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