Image source: www.theguardian.com
The American election surprised everyone. One thing that doesn’t surprise me is the level of activism that seems to be bubbling up everywhere. Now that people realize what’s at stake for their side, they are preparing to fight for what they believe.
Fueling those fights are nightmares from the left about what the United States and the world come become. No amount of reassurance from the supporters of the recent change can quell their fears. Whether that’s good or bad, the increased interest in participation is undoubtedly a good thing.
Among the nightmares of the left are those encapsulated in Margaret Atwood’s chilling book, The Handmaid’s Tale. In it, the United States has become a place where women have been stripped of their human rights. Atwood describes the transformation of our country, and the plausibility of her narrative makes the book particularly frightening.
Many on the left who are working to ensure the rights of women in a world that does not universally value them take books like The Handmaid’s Tale very seriously. Because such books are so plausibly written, they serve as strident warnings about what could happen under the worst of circumstances. The book has a life beyond its interior world.
My wife and daughters will be going on the Million Women March. No doubt they and others have hopes and fears that have been shaped, either directly or indirectly, by The Handmaid’s Tale. Because this book exists, they are motivated to create a world which will be different from it.
As an author I am energized by the idea that a novel can be more than an entertainment or a bad dream. If it is done right, it can live in the imagination as a yardstick by which we measure our reality. We compare what we see to an author’s vision of what we could become and so determine how we are doing.
As a songwriter, my highest inspiration is that someone takes my song to heart, identifies with it so completely that the song itself becomes part of their world. As a novelist I can have higher aspirations. A novel is a world that can live next to a world.
As with everything, quality is key. Plausibility, craft, relevance must be a part of the process. There must be a kind of honesty in it that makes even the author wince.
Nineteen-Eighty-Four, The Plot Against America, even Lord of the Rings, all convincingly tell the story of good places gone bad. If you choose to read one of my books, either in the test-reader stage or after publication, I hope you will hold me to that standard. I want my books always to serve a higher purpose.