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To Read and Write About Love

This week’s topic has sprung from a personal event in my own life (as so many of my topics do). I’ve been thinking for several days about writing a love story — about writing the love story. The only one in my head, that is. It’s a bit complicated to explain, and though possibly random incoherence isn’t the best for an article on this site, what got me started on this train of thought, ultimately, was Margaret Atwood’s book, The Blind Assassin.

This book had me thinking about it for days. Literally days. The moment I finished it, I felt that odd suffocating feeling I get when I finish reading something so incredibly powerful and resonant that I ended up driving around in my car for over an hour just to process it.

Love was a theme, among others. But it was grittier than that. Real, harsh, however you’d like to describe it. It was that long-lived but short-going kind of love. The kind you don’t want to end, but you know it will, because it is simply in its nature.  It was in the background but it moved the story, within a story, within a story. Atwood wove a tapestry with this book. I can’t really justify it. I won’t try.

I like reading about love, if it feels real. If it’s a rough sandstone or a cracked vase. If it’s crumbling but still clinging. If it’s holding despite the pain. I can connect much better with that perspective than with happily-ever-after. Don’t get me wrong. Happily-ever-after has its time and place, but it just isn’t for me (with the exception of Jane Austen, perhaps). It leaves an acidic taste in my mouth, like I’ve just swallowed venom. Like someone is mocking me, mocking my pain — the pain we all experience — because of love. I’m sorry, but I just can’t let love get away with kindness so easily. And yes, I seriously get that frustrated with it.

But regardless, reading about love and writing about love are two very different things for me. I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about the bond itself — fallible, transient, like a smooth wave-stone in the sea. I’d much rather have my characters killing someone than loving someone. You can get rid of the bodies, but love tends to stick.

So how do these writers do it, then? Write a love story that seems to matter? How do they make it look so effortless? And I’m not talking about genre, really, not in the sense of romances or the like. I’m talking about the human experience that rises from a truly good novel, a story that can carry love as one of its themes without letting it fully take the stage. A story that can keep it in the background even as it drives the novel; a story that can leave it without words or rendering but still carry it as its core.

In The Blind Assassin, love seemed so far away all of the time, but it was right there, in the words — in the pain and memories of the characters, in their acceptances and their failures. It’s those little things that I pick out of the novels and continue to carry with me, brief snippets of words and images and story that haunt me because they can hit so close to home.

How do these writers do it?

I guess it really isn’t for me to say, but if someone has advice, I’d love to hear it. I can only hope that one day I could be so good as to write a novel half as thought provoking as The Blind Assassin. And I can only hope that one day I’ll be brave enough to write about love.

The article below summarizes exactly how I felt about The Blind Assassin. If you’re interested in the book, I suggest you give it a read.

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One thought on “To Read and Write About Love

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Michelle. I usually struggle with reading love stories because I feel the balance is so crucial. Blind Assassin is a love story that is so much more. So glad to find a kindred spirit.

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