I’m someone who believes that fiction can lead a person to Truth more than any other medium. Case in point: Several years ago Michael Cunningham, the author of The Hours and several other beautiful, moody novels, was in Tulsa. I had read The Hours twice and discussed it with my book group. I had also seen the movie version. The character of Laura Brown haunted me. She was wound so tightly and trying so hard to be perfect, but felt trapped and unfulfilled in her stifling role as a 1950s housewife and mother. Her life was drastically different from mine; I’m a happily married career woman with no children of my own. But there was something about Laura that pierced me to the core. I could feel her pain so deeply and was puzzled about why she spoke to me in such an intimate way.
While listening to Cunningham speak he said he had loosely based the character on his mother, who always kept a perfect house, dressed impeccably and was certain that by keeping total control of her domestic sphere she could keep away all of the bad stuff. This statement hit me like a ton of bricks, as I realized that’s why the character of Laura Brown resonated with me so deeply. I have a tendency to seek perfection (although I never get anywhere remotely close to it) in the futile hope that I too can keep the bad stuff away. But the truth is that you can't keep the bad stuff away. This was an extremely revelatory moment for me. It created a visceral reaction that resulted in tears and months of self-reflection and ultimate personal growth.
I expressed my appreciation to Cunningham for providing me with this personal insight through his exquisitely painful and haunting novel. I tried to make him understand how powerful words can be and that his ability to turn mere words into moments of Truth was nothing short of magical.
This is one reason reading is so important to me. It helps me navigate the world and understand my place in it. It enables me to understand and empathize with others. It makes me a better person. I’m now reading Cunningham’s new book The Snow Queen. I wonder what it will teach me.