Truth in Literature

There is no such thing as truth and yet there is, undoubtably, because we’ve given this mystifying word space to grow. But I imagine that truth is, by now, a tired and weathered line, tugged by definitions as pigheaded as their creators.

“Truth,” one will claim, “is this.”

“But no,” another will say, “truth is not that, rather, it is this.”

“I,” the first will say, “assure you that you are wrong.”

Poor truth, I think, how exhausted and defeated that dubious word must feel, watching quarrels erupt time and time again over the nature of its meaning. But of course we quarrel. After all, we rely on truth to define ourselves, our lives, our purpose. We seek truth in all aspects of our lives. We even attempt to define truth within illusory contexts. Children know that Santa Claus is real, or at least, for sometime these alternate truths provide a reliable narrative. But it’s no wonder that the first word to follow Santa Claus when conducting an internet search is “real.” At some point or another, we all begin to question what is true and the word begins to break down.

I am going to admit (and I am somewhat ashamed of this fact) that up until now I’d never read anything by Carol Shields. This week, I read The Stone Diaries, a novel published in 1993 that tells the story of a woman’s life, a woman referred to as Daisy Goodwill, Mrs. Flett, Dee, Mother, Grandmother, Aunt Daisy, Daze and Mrs. Green Thumb. Each chapter offers rumination on the distinct stages of her life: childhood, marriage, widowhood, remarriage, motherhood and old age.

The book is very much a biography. In its opening pages, the reader is provided with an elaborate family tree. In the middle of the book are several pages of photographs. Daisy’s parents, her children, her late husband. The reader will wonder:

“Is this not a work of fiction? ”

“Perhaps,” they will think, “I am mistaken but yet I swear… the book was organized under “fiction” at that bookstore off 17th Avenue and 14th Street.”

“Perhaps,” they will think again, “the book was misplaced.”

But the reader will soon realize that it simply doesn’t matter. Daisy Goodwill is as “real” as real can be. It’s been a long time since I’ve become emotional over a book and I’ve grown somewhat attached, irrational and bewildered. Joy, sadness and angst permeate my thoughts. The book clings to me as I cling to it.

“Alice shut up!” I scream in my head. Her mulish ways have begun to gnaw on my nerves. I want to tear the pages and yet, some years later, I love Alice dearly, so much I can barely stand it. So again, here I am, my heart is beating. I am convinced of Mrs. Flett’s sorrow and when Beverly calls Warren “a drip,” I want to cry. Ink is sneaky. Clever. How “true” these characters feel. They feed on empathy, gain enough strength to walk from the page and declare a reality of their own.

So we may quarrel as much as we like over the meaning of “truth” but the only “truth” I know is that which I believe, that which sneaks into my life and forces me to feel. The only “truth” I know is my own version of “truth,.” This is not to say I’m not influenced by others. I will forever feel influenced by Daisy Goodwill, making her, in many ways, a “truth” that straddles the line between fiction and reality.

To conclude with a quote from The Stone Diaries. Shields writes:

“The real and the illusory whirl about her bedroom in smooth-dripping waltz-time- one, two, three; one, two, three. On and on she goes.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s