When I flew back from Minnesota last week, I started reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen on the airplane. The book is fabulous, about a 93-year-old veterinarian having a hard time in assisted living and remembering his days in the circus during the depression--particularly an event that shaped his life. What's fascinated me, too, is that there are B&W photos of circus events from the depression at the start of some chapters. It makes it seem as if it happened. I'd never seen photos with fiction before, and I'm enchanted with the idea.
My upcoming novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century, is finished, a press release is out, and advance copies of the book will soon be shipped to reviewers. Yet it occurs to me that I have photos that could accompany some of my chapters the way Sara Gruen has used a handful of photos. My novel is a story about a young Minnesotan, Edward, blessed with an abundance of "experience"--first when his mother dies and next when his father, an encyclopedia salesman, shoehorns Edward into a private boys school where he's tortured and groomed.
Edward needs a place in the universe, but he also wants an understanding of women. He stumbles into romance in high school, careens through dorm life in college, whirls into a tornado of love problems as a mini-mart owner in a trailer park in Alabama, and aims for a film career in Los Angeles. I have photos with and without people that might add to the book. I'm leaning toward photos without people.
That is, it's not to late to add six photos to the final book. One of them is above, which is of the Hi Jolly gravesite in Quartzsite, Arizona. My character visits the site at two points.
Question: if you've read Water for Elephants, what did you think of the photos? I've found the story is so involving, the photos aren't needed but they have added to the atmosphere of the book. The photos underscored the realness of the settings.
People who don't read fiction (usually men) have told me they don't like fiction because it's made up. Gruen's photos suggest it isn't made up but real. Great fiction to me is as real as anything, and certainly more real than any autobiography where truths are shaped to shade the subject positively, and other events are left out altogether.
Do you have a reaction to photos in fiction?
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