One Great Novel

This is actually the same sunset that I posted on the blog November 3, but with a different camera and settings. In case any of you are as geeky as I am and like to compare.

Come on, you like it, you know you do.

I don’t typically read a lot of writing craft books these days. I have my favorites on the shelf and occasionally look up a particularly good quote – usually to share with someone else. Last night, though, I saw in the Kindle store (most invidious marketing tool EVER) that one of my all-time favorite writers, Ann Patchett, had a little book up on writing. I saw it because I was debating whether to buy her new book, State of Wonder. The story doesn’t look all that interesting to me, but who am I kidding? Ann Patchett is one of those writers who writes so beautifully that I don’t care what the story is. But then they want $12.99 for it, which I think is too much for an eBook. So I was wavering and I spotted this: The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life.

At last! Ann is going to explain to me How She Does It.

It’s short – only 45 pages – and it looks like she self-pubbed it. Which means she should get most of the money for it. Which I also like.

And it’s lovely.

There’s this great story in there that I just have to share with you all. Long time blog-gobblers will understand why I like it so much.

…my husband had told her I was a novelist. Regrettably, I admitted this was the case. That was when she told me that everyone had at least one great novel in them.

I have learned the hard way not to tell strangers what I do for a living. Frequently, no matter how often I ask him not to, my husband does it for me. Ordinarily, in a circumstance like this one, in the Masonic Lodge in Preston, Mississippi, I would have just agreed with this woman and sidled off (One great novel, yes, of course, absolutely everyone), but I was tired and bored and there was nowhere to sidle to except the field. We happened to be standing next to the name-tag table. On that table was a towering assortment of wildflowers stuck into a clear glass vase. “Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.

I remember that her gray hair was thick and cropped short and that she looked at me directly, not glancing over at the flowers.

“One algebraic proof?”

She shook her head.

“One Hail Mary pass? One five-minute mile?”

“One great novel,” she said.

“But why a novel?” I asked, having lost for the moment the good sense to let it go. “Why a great one?”

“Because we each have the story of our life to tell,” she said. It was her trump card, her indisputable piece of evidence. She took my silence as confirmation of victory, and so I was able to excuse myself.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman, not later that same day, not five years later. Was it possible that, in everybody’s lymph system, a nascent novel is knocking around? A few errant cells that, if given the proper encouragement, cigarettes and gin, the requisite number of bad affairs, could turn into something serious? Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper.

So now I’m thinking about that, too.

11 Replies to “One Great Novel”

  1. Maybe there is a great novel inside everyone, but the vast majority of them are never getting out, and of the tiny number (relatively speaking) that do make it out, most of them aren’t great or even novels when they emerge.

    But really? I’m not convinced that every single person on the planet has a life story that could support the claim that it’s “great novel” material. But then I’m a cynical bitch.

    1. LOL – I’m cynical, too. This is one of my pet peeves, this pervasive idea that anyone can produce a novel. I just love that she had the wit to ask if everyone also has One Great Hail Mary Pass or One Five-Minute Mile. For me, my great goal is to run two miles in twenty minutes. Not at all easy for me. But I know and understand that about myself.

  2. *Snort.* My life, as a novel, would not be believed. I know this, because I write novels (among other things), and I am living my life. Reality is too danged weird and too full of coincidences to make a decent novel.

  3. There might be a great story inside most people, but not every single one of them can turn it into a book. Some people, like my father did, tell their stories verbally. Some people, like my mother, live their stories and their children are left to hold those memories for future generations. And some poor people lack the imagination to believe they have any kind of story at all.

    But then again, I also believe you don’t need to live a great life to have a great story inside you. ;o)

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