Writing as Rebellion

By Sarah Lane

Silences fascinate me, those untranslatable spaces that lurk between languages, cultures, lovers, within families, that linger after the unspeakable has been spoken. I’m drawn to stories of escape, where characters seek a more authentic freedom elsewhere only to have circumstances and events reinforce the futility of their efforts: escape from one’s self and from death is always impossible. Albert Camus QuoteSo the quest shifts away from the search for freedom from tyranny toward a means to evade despair in an unfree world.

The practice of writing is, in many ways, an acquiescence to this despair: an acceptance of being without certainty. The written word cannot transcribe life’s experiences; at best, it can shift perception from the notes in the music, the words on the page, to all the empty spaces in between. A literary novel is a pact of silence between an author and a reader that says, “Here are a multitude of reasons to despair, but wait, here is an inexplicable thread of hope.” We live in an age of white noise and constant distraction, where quiet is hard to come by, but the choice remains the same: to fight or surrender. In crafting a work of fiction, the author must make the same choice: to chronicle the rebellion of the human heart as it insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that there must be something more than this, or to chronicle the slow slide into the despair of a numb, distracted life.

The book I’m working on now is a psychological novel about a young woman and her doppelgänger. It is loosely based on The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky, where a socially awkward clerk loses his grip on reality after repeatedly meeting a man who looks exactly like him but who, unlike him, is confident and popular. My protagonist is a highly intelligent young woman suffering from panic attacks, who follows a teacher’s advice to take salsa dancing lessons to reduce her social anxiety. Terribly shy and dance challenged, she develops an instant crush on the salsa instructor. Then her doppelganger shows up: confident, outgoing, and an aggressive natural dancer. Things deteriorate from there, as in Dostoevsky’s novel, but with a twist, which I won’t give away here.

I like to start a novel by asking myself a question. I began writing The God of My Art by asking, “How free is a young woman from an impoverished background to decide her life?” With this current novel I have started by asking, “What happens when a young woman who despises herself encounters her double?” As the girl’s story unfolds, I am discovering the many insidious consequences of living in fear of other people’s judgement.

The advice I try to follow as a writer? Make the time to write. Discipline matters more than innate talent. Secondly, write in search of an answer. To sustain beyond youth an unbridled rage against injustice requires a relentless courage. Such courage requires that a choice be made to believe in goodness, even without the promise of an afterlife, even in a cruel world. Writers must never become complacent in the search for meaning, even when the answers evade them.

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