Sunday, May 27, 2018

Art Imitates Life: Every Story has Two Sides

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast
Charles Baxter pursues his tough-minded ideas -- steeled as they are by paradox and contradiction -- without ever losing sight of the quieter truths revealed in ordinary lives. Kirkus Review
After reading Charles Baxter's First Light, I sat quite stunned at how completely individual and well-wrought were each of his very different characters. Hugh Welch is an ordinary guy who sells cars and thinks about sports. His sister Dorsey is a brilliant astrophysicist. The thoughts and actions of Hugh and Dorsey are so completely drawn, I felt as if I'd been transported inside their brains, each with distinctive cognitive ability.

I was also impressed by the range of Baxter's own mind, to be able to identify so fully with each of his characters. And I was reminded of how differently each of us views the world, quite evident in the contrast between Hugh's and Dorsey's perspectives.

Those reactions to First Light reminded me of my introduction to Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet  (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea). Still in my early twenties, this was the first time I learned from brilliant writing how different perspectives color individual interpretations of the world. I'd just finished reading Justine and turned to Balthazar, expecting a continuation of events described by Justine in the first novel. Instead, I was surprised to read about the same events Justine had described, only now from Balthazar's point of view.

Durrell brilliantly illustrated how our limited perspectives create completely different interpretations of the world. Now it's quite common to read novels in which the remarkable differences among characters' points of view underlie apparent reality. In a more contemporary example, Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, the entire first half is from Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite's point of view, the second half from his wife Mathilde Yoder's. 

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives.

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