I love Ian McEwan. Among other works, his short novel On Chesil Beach absolutely blew my mind with its delicious description, compassion, and nearly telepathic internal narrative of a young couple engaged in the young-couple drama and anxiety of their wedding night.
He schools me, does Mr. McEwan. So I was pleased to come across his article When I Stop Believing In Fiction in the New Republic. In part because I am at the stage he discusses: ending one novel, beginning another.
A sometimes treacherous ground for him, this sloughing off of one imaginary world and the emptiness before engaging with another. A time when, he says, he starts asking those Big Questions.
You know: what’s the point? Although, being a writer, his morph into what’s the point… of these made-up people and places, of the world’s huge burden of literature… “what will I have or know at the end of yet another novel beyond Henry’s remorse or triumph?” Teach me about the world! he says, meaning science, history, botany, and all those facts and happenings that really exist.
A loss of faith.
But it’s the details that bring him back – those delicious phrases, the art of the thing: the skillful description of a July heatwave, a man’s too-tight shoes…
I get that. Lately I’ve been reading a lot – finding those amazing details in The Antagonist by Lynn Coady and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Wonderful, skillful books that have ushered me back into my own act of creating, even as edits continue on Swarm, a novel which is, pretty much, done.
It’s a weird thing, this profession of making stuff up. Really, in a place I don’t yet truly know and that’s so much about nature (my daily excursions are to walk the dog on the wilderness trail behind our house), my imaginary worlds sometimes seem a bit more real than the snow and sky of the actual.
This morning I wrote about a woman who grows chives that form those purple pom-poms in the first summer heat and yellow cherry tomatoes that glow like little lanterns. After the rain, all the plants on her fire-escape droop like discarded clothing…
And how great is that: to create summer while outside the world is a frozen tableaux of snow and poplar? To make another reality.