On the Lit Life blog, I was asked the question: What novel made you want to become a writer? This was the answer.
I was in college when my favorite writing teacher told me to read the Wide Sargasso Sea, a kind of prequel to Jane Eyre by Jean Rhys. As an English major, you are drowned in recommendations, but what she said next made me run out and buy it: "You’ll never be the same again." Those are glory words to an eighteen-year-old, and I devoured the book just as she guessed I would. How did she know? I was a tomboy in my literary tastes. Jane Austennovels bored me. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was more to my taste, but there was still something a little irritating about Ms. Eyre. The Wide Sargasso Sea’s Antoinette Cosway—who would become the madwoman in the attic fromJane Eyre—shattered me. I lived that book. The prose is crystalline and sensual, but it’s the knowingness of how things really are, the lack of sugarcoating it, that devastates you: “They say when trouble comes, close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks.” It made me permanently on the side of the underdog, looking for the part of the story people are trying to hide—not a bad place for a fiction writer to be.