Three examples pictured: Good old stars and stripes, Soviet flag, and (comes in many guises), the ever-popular FREAK FLAG.
I just finished reading a long novel. I’m not going to mention the author, or the name the book, because I don’t want to get involved in critiquing.
Here’s the thing; the writing was so good, really good. But, and this is a big but, the author saw fit to politicize and lecture, as the book progressed the politicizing intensified to such a degree I found myself growing weary, very weary. I longed to connect to the protagonist emotionally, but never did. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say the communist party was the main character.
Injecting political affairs into a work of fiction is a tricky business. I was taught never to openly lecture the reader. If an author ventures into this territory, they ought to tread lightly. Most of us don’t choose fiction to be harangued into holding a particular opinion or view. If we’re looking for information and opinion we buy nonfiction.
There exist oodles of great novels involving heavy subject matter, to be sure. Charles Dickens had a way of showcasing the inequities between the classes in not-so-Merry-old-England. Ernest Hemingway wrote about the brutality of war in For Whom the Bell Tolls. James Jones set us in Pearl Harbor during WWII in From Here to Eternity. Margaret Mitchell tackled the Civil War with her epic Gone With the Wind. What each of these authors managed to do with great skill was to pen interesting stories with full-blown characters, constructing authentic characters, believable narrative, and a lively plot to keep readers engaged.
Too much lecturing bogs the reader down. The heavy-handed author’s agenda, (especially if the reader does not share their particular world view), may alienate, as opposed to absorb. I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in having my novel tossed aside because I stepped on the reader’s head too hard.
Currently I am grappling with these issues as I work on my own historical piece. No easy feat, this delicate balancing act! I’m pleased that I chose to read the above-mentioned novel. The author did so much right, but in the end, I put the book down feeling cheated. And I am extremely motivated, not to go down that same road. Oh sure, there are many positive reviews of her book posted on Amazon. Some people love being lectured to, especially if they agree with the subject matter. I for one, do not. So I do what most authors do, I write what I enjoy reading.
Do you grapple with these issues? Do you think I’m making too big a deal about this subject? Can you name a novel that put you off in such a manner? Or, better yet, can you name a novel that waved a particular flag in such a manner as to inspire and influence you in a meaningful way?
I will choose the runaway bestseller, The Help, to illustrate my point. Kathryn Stockett writes about race relations during the civil rights era, but I never once felt as if I were being preached at. The Help is one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you haven’t read it, please do. You won’t be sorry.
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.