Monday, March 26, 2007

Disillusioned Novels

Miri and I were discussing A Complicated Kindness- a novel that we both just finished reading and both really enjoyed (the former hardly a coincidence- it was recommended by a common friend and also there aren't all that many books around the dorms, so any book that she gets her hands on will be mine pretty soon). It's really a very good book, of the angsty disillusioned rebellious intellectual teenager sort, but the girl has more of a right to be angsty, disillusioned and rebellious than the average teenager, so you had to forgive her for it. We were wondering whether it's possible to write a good novel about a community without it being a scathingly disillusioned and bitter indictment. That is, whether one could write a book about the Jewish community that would both be decent and not a 'look at me, I'm airing dirty laundry and exposing the corroded infrastructure of the so-called moral authority' sort of thing.

Here's my theory. Every good novel- community specific or not- must be disillusioned. Because illusions simply don't work in a novel. Those that share the illusion will be bored and unchallenged; those that don't will think that you're a naive idiot and be entirely unable to relate to you or your little narrative. In fact, a possible definition of the greatness of a novel could be having the fewest illusions possible. If a novel is measured by how much it resembles reality or by how much it reveals about the world and the human condition, then it can't really afford to have any illusions at all.

But the thing is this. These illusions aren't just the ones that sneering black-bereted intellectuals like to be disillusioned with, like the morality of authority figures, the efficacy of the system, or the perfection and happiness of everybody in the community. A real novel can't afford to have illusions like that the sneering intellectuals have any answers, that everybody is miserable, that there's no truth or beauty or love or honesty in the system. Illusions like that the author is better or wiser or more honest than everybody else. A good novel has to be painfully truthful, but I don't know that truth is necessarily bitter or angsty.


Halfnutcase said...

Toby, you should get ahold of the movie "my neighbor totoro" and show it to some little kids. They absolutely love it even though the whole conflict doesn't come from any kind of interpersonal agression of angst.

Disney produces it and kids love it. (siskel and his buddy gave it two thumbs down untill they saw a group of children watching it.) As american adults we are taught to thrive on creating conflict and unhappiness. Competition of self interest are the bywords of this culture and because of that nothing else is at all interesting. Kids know better though, although few of them stay that way to adulthood.

Miri said...

hey, I own that movie! on vhs, but still. we loved it when we were kids, we memorized it. anyway, Tobie, you can borrow it if you want. mmm conflict no, but illusions, yes. there were many, in that film.

and Tobie, I take issue with that. I own many books, and just bought more, and am bringing more with me back from America. watch your mouth.

Halfnutcase said...

miri, the point is that the whole movie is about living with the magic of childhood, not loosing it.

:-) it counters everything that she said makes a good story. it's completely opposite!

(and yes, I grew up with it as well. the author made many other movies as well, kiki's delivery service, castle in the sky, and a whole bunch of others. they are great fun!)

(fox used to produce it but now disney released a better version of DVD when the contract to fox ran out.)

anonym00kie said...

ths is why i hav such a love/hate relationship with my blog. i want to take it a step further than just pointing out and criticizing and whining, i want to express my own thoughts adn realizations on issues that ive personlly contemplated. the problem is that once i work out an issue and put it down in writing it sounds "naive" and idiotic. the answers always come across simplified, its the (very personal)prcess that brings you to them that's interesting. but once the conclusions are written down or explained, 90% of their value is lost. so.. when poele want to write "good" books they have to take it a step back.. before the issues are resolved and internalized - present the issues, and allow others to work them out.. but then you get books that are all about angsty disillusionment..