Like all parents, I ponder the Generational Divide some days more than others. And this week? Well, it occurred to me that J.K. Rowling’s great gift to humankind–the Sorting Hat–might represent the issue nicely. If the hat assigned generational membership, it might still consider age, but it would also pose a question: Which do you value more: representing yourself as a unique individual or deriving comfort from commonalities with others?
A solid member of the latter cohort, I’ve learned that special-ness comes at a price, as when the doctor, car repairer, roofer, or computer technician exclaims, “Wow, you almost never see that!”
We prove every day that informational resources at the library can match the sudden need for material on a newly prescribed diet, relationship miscue, or DIY assignment. And the most marvelous aspect of such guidance is the fact that it exists at all. Its availability reinforces one’s inclusion in good company. Others have faced this situation, too!
But leave it to fiction to venture beyond mere answers, thus bridging across generations. Novels invite interpretation colored by the reader’s background. Andre Dubus’ engrossing House of Sand and Fog, for example, deals with home ownership but ultimately suggests more questions than answers with attendant emphases on prejudice and character. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Jane Green’s Another Piece of My Heart, and Rebecca Coleman’s Heaven Should Fall are all “domestic fiction” but illustrate vividly disparate permutations of family crises. They appeal to readers of both types, those intuiting personal connection and those intrigued by the possibilities.
Other novels explore plots thankfully far outside average experience for any age or outlook. Debut author Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia (available in April) and Kevin Powers’ award-winning The Yellow Birds imagine, based on the authors’ knowledge, darker scenarios involving school bullying, intrigue, and personal tragedy in the first instance and the Iraq war in the second.
Author of Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale Lynda Rutledge was on hand at the Round Rock New Neighbors book discussion group (they meet at the La Frontera Barnes & Noble) earlier this week. Her story visits five generations of a prominent small-town Texas family, none of which communicate adequately with the others or relate in the same fashion to the valuable possessions accumulating in the family mansion. Acknowledging one plot angle particularly enjoyed by the group, Ms. Rutledge confessed her delight in having furnished readers information that even the characters didn’t know.
Now that’s an approach with universal appeal, further demonstrating fiction’s powers of inclusion.
And in that vein I have to share a curious facet about another well-received novel from the past year, Ben Fountain’s National Book Critics Circle winner Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Checking its availability at RRPL, I spied in its record a subject heading I don’t recall encountering previously: “Football & War”. Generational membership aside, to appreciate its aptness you just might need to be a Texan.