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Bodysnatching, Historical Fiction and Grief

Literary Bodysnatching
“The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson” fits neatly into the flourishing genre of literary bodysnatching.  … written in the person or from the point of view of a dead, great writer…But all are perfect for the age of too much information.  The genre thrives on a contemporary desire to fill in the blanks, and to grant spinsterish ladies the sexual desires they so decorously veiled in their 18th and 19th-century writing.” – New York Times Book Review pg. 11, Sunday, Feb. 21st, 2010.  The desire to fill in the blanks speaks well of the position that we’re currently in: women, now writing themselves into history on a daily basis, want to fill in the blanks of women in the past, as do blacks and queers.  Now that basic rights have been secured, it’s time to fill in the stories of our cultures and heritages.  Great news for historical fiction writers or perhaps more accurately, it explains why there’s an upsurge in interest in reading and writing historical fiction.

Stuck in Grief = Story in Trouble
“It’s hard to give movement to a story about stasis.  Grief, as all those immersed in it are chillingly aware, causes a numbness… To tell it straight is to tell of a person’s repeated, futile reaching for the absent loved one, the insistent return to the original moment of loss.”  NYT Book Review pg. 8, Sunday, Feb. 21st, 2010.  The difficult thing for a novelist trying to portray reality, then, is that real people are often stuck; some spend the better part of their lives mired in failing patterns without the courage or vision to move on; stasis, really, is the entirety of many lives and since stasis is not an acceptable part of literature, we see another way in which literature clearly doesn’t mirror life.  Going for “the insistent return to the original moment of loss” will create repetition in your plot. The last thing you want is for a reader to growl “oh, get over it and get on with it!”

Travel Writing Hiding in Crime Capers
“A Crime in Calcutta nods toward the current vogue for exotic detective stories and suggests that (Paul) Theroux has absorbed the interesting fact that detective fiction has turned out to be the new travel writing.  A great deal of place and history can be smuggled into the lush confines of a crime novel; people who might rather see foreign sights on YouTube or the Travel Channel than read a book devoted to them can still be jolted into pursuing a thrilled that happens to be set in, say, Iceland or Istanbul.”   New York Times Book Review

If Our Politics Are All In Our Head Lets Change Our Brains
Nicholas Kristof (NYTimes Feb. 14th pg. 10) writes of new scientific evidence that the brains of conservatives “are particularly alert to threats, particularly primed to feel vulnerable and perceive danger.”  Kristof calls this being ‘hard-wired’ to conservatism and admitted to feeling dispirited by the results, as if there was now proof that there was no way to change a conservative’s mind.  Maybe not through logical arguments like the ones an op-ed writer would use, but as a Buddhist I’d suggest another tact: there is no such thing as hard-wired. We know that meditation and mantras increase the health of the brain section that experiences bliss and feelings of safety while decreasing the activity of the brain segment that experiences fear.  Another great reason to foster meditation: it could actually alter the blue/red landscape and create an upsurge in liberal thinking. Yes!