Opposite of Fate

“She wanted to write a novel in the style of Jane Austen, a book of manners about the upper class, a book that had nothing to do with her own life. Years before, she had dreamed of writing stories as a way to escape. She could revise her life and become someone else. She could be somewhere else. In her imagination she could change everything, herself, her mother, her past. But the idea of revising her life also frightened her, as if by imagination alone she were condemning what she did not like about herself or others. Writing what you wished was the most dangerous form of wishful thinking.” – Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter

“There is no curse,” he said. I was listening hard, trying to believe that
I would always hear him speak. “And you are brave, you are strong, ” he went on.
I wanted to protest that I didn’t want to be strong, but I was crying too much
to speak. “You cannot change this,” he said. “This is your character.

He kissed my eyes one at a time. “This is beauty, and this is beauty, and
you are beauty, and love is beauty and we are beauty. We are divine unchanged by
time” –

Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter

“Sapir said something else about language and reality. It is the part that often gets left behind in the dot-dot-dots of quotations:’No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different socities live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.” – Amy Tan, Opposite of Fate.

I write stories because I have questions about life,not answers. I believe life is mysterious and not dissectable. I think human nature is best described in even a long-winded story and not in a psychoanalytical diagnosis. I write because often I can’t express myself any other way, and I think I’ll implode if I don’t find the words. I can’t paraphrase or give succinct morals about love and hope, pain and loss. I have to use a mental longhand, ponder and work it out in the form of a story that is revised again and again, twenty times, a hundred times, until it feels true.

I write for very much the same reasons that I read: to startle my mind, to churn my heart, to tingle my spine, to knock the blinders off my eyes and allow me to see beyond the pale. Fiction is an intimate companion and confidant for life.”– Amy Tan, Opposite of Fate

 On her coined ‘Babette’s Feast theory’ :  “In fact, my husband and I have friends we have long associated with a particular film, Babette’s Feast. We recalled their saying it was subtle and unpretentious, artless in the way pure art should be. So we went to see it. Huh? We found it tedious, interminable. Like laboratory mice shocked once, and hence once too often, we learned to ignore any future recommendations for movies from these friends. We did so for about the next ten years.

Nonetheless, Babette’s Feast had me thinking the other day that the same avoidance principles might apply to people who take on the role of literary arbiter for others – reviewers, critics, panels for prizes, and yes, even guest editors. Such people may have an eye for literary conventions and contrivances, allusions and innovations on the art. But what are their tastes based on? What are their biases? Is part of it the common prejudice in the arts that anything that is popular is by default devoid of value? Do they tend to choose work that most resembles their own? Perhaps those critics who publicly declare “this is good and that is not” ought to present a list of more than just the titles of their most recently published works.

I, for one, would like a résumé of habits, a précis of personality. What movies would they watch twice? Do they make clever and snide remarks, but mostly about people who are doing better than they? When recounting conversations, do they imitate other people’s voices? When sharing a meal with friends, do they offer to pick up the tab, split the bill evenly, or portion it out according to what they ordered and how little wine they drank? When a friend of theirs has suffered a terrible loss, do they immediately call or wait until things have settled down a bit? What are their most frequent complaints in life? What do they tend to exaggerate? What do they downplay? Do they think little dogs are adorable or appetizers for big dogs? And, of course, I would want to know the names of books they love and loathe and why. In other words, if you ran into this person at a party, would you even like him or her?

I am being only half facetious. I do think the answers would say something about a person’s sensibility regarding life and human nature, and hence his or her sensibility regarding stories, beyond the surface of craft. I think the stories we love to read may very well have to do with our emotional obsessions, the circuitry between our brain and our heart, the questions we thought about as children that we still think about, whether they are about the endurance of love, the fears that unite us, the acceptance of irreversible decay, or the ties that bind that turn out to be illusory.  In that context, I also think that if Babette’s Feast was your all-time favorite film, then you might not like the stories I picked.” – Amy Tan, Opposite of Fate

I really adored the book, and it was such a lovely surprise – but I should have expected it.

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One response to “Opposite of Fate

  • Opposite of Fate (via Magpie Nomenclature) « slices of ink

    […] "She wanted to write a novel in the style of Jane Austen, a book of manners about the upper class, a book that had nothing to do with her own life. Years before, she had dreamed of writing stories as a way to escape. She could revise her life and become someone else. She could be somewhere else. In her imagination she could change everything, herself, her mother, her past. But the idea of revising her life also frightened her, as if by imaginatio … Read More […]

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