The author/brain connection

There are times when you look away from a book for a moment and think “Damn, I wish I’d said that. In fact, I think I could have said that.” You’ll quickly amend the thought ever so slightly, perhaps suspecting that the Karma Police will put you on a watchlist for thinking yourself on par with an author you admire, but the passage will stick in your mind. My own practice is to stop at that point and reread the passage out loud, just in case I missed something while jumping to whatever my conclusion might be.

Author Lionel Shriver is keenly aware of this sort of thing:

I’m convinced that it’s not so much that I’m so perceptive, but that occasionally I’m able to put into words what most of us think. That’s what makes it seem perceptive, but the talent is the getting it into words. Because when you say that your friend felt I had a direct pipeline to her head, that means that she had thought these things herself. One of the great satisfactions of fiction, when it works, is that you come across a passage that somehow articulates what you have already thought yourself, so that the author’s not ahead of you exactly, but has simply given you the facility to give the thought form.

It would have taken me several paragraphs, I think, maybe even several pages, to capture this:

[I]t had always been frustrating: if you put the two of them together — Lawrence’s discipline, intellect, and self-control, Ramsey’s eroticism, spontaneity, and abandon — you’d have the perfect man.

“I’ve sometimes wondered whether it really matters all that much, whom you choose to live with, or to marry,” she mused. “After all, there’s something wrong with everybody, isn’t there? Ultimately, we all settle.

“Oh, it matters,” he snorted readily.

Were I to tackle this subject I’d be wandering all around Robin Hood’s barn without actually getting anywhere.

That quoted passage, incidentally, is from Shriver’s 2007 novel The Post-Birthday World, which I finished reading over the weekend, and from which I quote the preface, in full:

“Nobody’s perfect.” — KNOWN FACT

Only Osgood Fielding III could have said it better.





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