"Sparrow," craft, and hope (re. a follow-up Q from Corinna Luyken)
Wow. I have been reading these and not commenting because every time I try, I type something that seems so banal in the face of everyone’s thoughtful, erudite insights. This post, however, has spurred something that has been with me since I began to make up stories and write them down. I think Sparrow and other stories like it celebrate what it is to be human. And that it is a beautiful thing to show up as a human in this body, at this place and time, against all odds and survive everything that happens. The best stories, and what I try to bring to my stories, even the failed ones, maybe especially the failed ones, is a sense that we “poor forked things” are by our very nature, heroic and blessed in an ineffable way. When George writes that the voice was not his that woke him with Sparrow’s story, even as a mostly Buddhist, I feel that that voice comes from a Someone who wants us to really understand that we are loved and ARE love. For me as an artist, trying to transcribe that simple fact, even if I’m writing a horror story about a maniacally twisted elementary schooler, there will always be a moment of truth about connection and community and the spirit that runs through our poor little hearts no matter what poor choices spring from them. The oddest thing about that moment is that I don’t even have to try and it shows up. My muse is generous! So the theme of so many GS stories, for me, is this precious connection that’s horizontal and irrevocably cellular and the place it comes from, vertical, extra cellular, uber dimensional and so, so hopeful. Thank you for this post and your lovely story, Sparrow. It helped me articulate a reason for being an artist when I’ve been in a bit of a generative slump and not in the mood for revision, either. And these comments from others need more thought and attention —- love this place, and all of you!! ❤️
Sparrow is beautiful. Sparrow is about as near to perfect as a story can be. It's fascinating the way in which the story isn't really about Sparrow and Randy, but about the narrator, and all of the others weighing in on these two humans. (George has detailed all of this in his post, so I won't elaborate.) Is this story hopeful? Absolutely. It gives hope to all of the Sparrows and Randys of the world, as well as to all the judgmental people in the world (i.e. all of us). We can be loved the way we are. And we can let go of preconceived notions/judgments if we just open up a bit. Great, great hope in this story.
But I do want to take issue with the notion that every truthful story is a hopeful one. I just don't agree with that assessment. Yes, as George says, a truthful, honest rendering "affirms.....something." But that "something" may be that evil exists. That "something" may be that terrible things happen. That "something" may be that we continue to kill our planet and look the other way while doing so. These are painful truths--akin to the bleakness of the concentration camp stories George speaks of (i think? I haven't read them). Perhaps George finds hope in the fact that someone lived to tell the tale. That the very fact of pen put to paper describing an atrocity is an act of faith and hope. I don't know. Maybe. I'd like to think so. The happy/sad or hopeful/hopeless dichotomy--I can see why George prefers to think only in terms of honesty and truth. Take hope out of the equation. Personally, i think of stories as having what I suppose could be called a moral stance. A story moves along to its climax when something's got to give--something that is meaningful, no matter how small. How that something "gives" depends on the story's protagonist and their moral makeup, their capacity (or non capacity) for change, their worldview. So i don't think of stories as hopeful or not. Or happy vs. sad. I assume truthfulness (or I won't bother with the story), and then look for the humanity. Up? Down? Yes? No? Courage? Failure? What's it going to be? In Sparrow, the narrator and the narrator's cohorts find their own humanity lurking beneath the surface. Sparrow and Randy allow that humanity to arise. This story is hopeful (which is probably why i love it so much). The story could have ended elsewhere--not with a breakup, but with the happiness of the couple while the narrator, et al, continue to be locked out of their humanity. A turning of the back on beauty. A moment when change is offered but not taken. That would still be a truthful story--it happens all of the time. But it wouldn't be a hopeful one.
I appreciate everyone's thoughts and comments about hope and truth. It's helped me find the words to describe what I think about this. (As so often happens in these discussions.) For me, the act of telling the truth, no matter whether that truth is about something dark or light, is a hopeful thing. When someone has the courage and self-knowledge to share a truth, I find hope in my fellow humans, because only by speaking the truth can we identify a problem, share a feeling, trust one another.
"She's got gaps, i've got gaps. Together, we fill gaps." Rocky Balboa (1976)
Thank you for this, George. I appreciate the connections you are making between a story being “hopeful” and the “relief” we feel when a story is truthful. Often, that sense of relief is tangible— something I feel in my chest or stomach after I’ve finished a great story.
And yes— with denial there is nowhere to go. (It is so depressing.) But with truthfulness as a starting point (even if it’s a painful one), there is room for hope.
Also—I love knowing that “Sparrow” woke you and insisted on being written! "The Book of Mistakes” was also written, upon waking, in the middle of the night. (Or rather, the first half of it was.)
Thank you again, for the detail and thoughtfulness of this response. "Sparrow" is SUCH a beautiful story— one that will stay with me for a long time.
This sounds something like almost dying in order to start truly living: letting loose of all the baggage we carry around that pins us to the wall of frustration.
This was like “Being John Malkovich”. A cliche description, no doubt. But damn, I was just inside G. Saunder’s head.
I love how you explain things, George. Truly, you are remarkably clear in your thought processes...and this helps so much! Thank you, too, for the revised story list.
Dear George, I'm so glad that you addressed the craft/process of "Sparrow" here, as it was my favorite story of the whole collection and I have been meaning to reread it so as to study it -- why it worked so well. So I reread it just now before reading your post, and a couple of things struck me this time: 1) The first paragraph, in its specificity and inherent groundedness, is completely inviting/captivating, drawing me in and building trust in me from the very beginning -- key!; and 2) The story has this lovely, kind of old-school storyness about it: there's this, and then this happens, and then this happens. There's something so deeply satisfying about good old-fashioned linearity. Not to mention the way the arc of it topples expectations -- that takes it over the top. I agree with Mary G. that it's perfect. May we all sleep so as to have such propitious dreams!
In the late 60's I had an English professor named Ken Richardson who talked about things like seeing through a glass darkly, the veil of Maya, and Plato's Allegory of the Cave. He said the artists job is to somehow remove the dark glass, the veil, the shadows to provide a glimpse of what can't be seen directly. This whole thing - George's story and how it came to be and all of the comments here are something like standing in the presence of truth. What a privilege it is to be here.
Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” comes to mind. The narrator starts out somewhere between grumpy and bemused and winds up dazzled, dazed, and blessed.
I found myself nodding along to this; not just the story (which is powerful), but George's internal process of discovery. There's a grace to letting the story breathe and giving yourself permission to explore it, instead of being urged to follow a cookie-cutter template or lean into a troupe. It takes courage to be hopeful.
I feel like some kind of slow, ponderous tortoise,
I chomp the opening of this Newsletter and find myself having to post comment. I read on a bit and find Corinna writing '... you are not necessarily described as a “hopeful” writer. And yet, I find hope in your writing…' and I find myself having to share the following just sparked, passing thought... without writers writing there can be no hope; no more than without readers to read, reflect on and talk about what writers have written there can be any hope of human progress.
Slow, for sure, but making progress?
This is definitely one of my favorite stories. Thanks for exploring it. The emphasis is on ordinary flawed people in an extremely common setting almost pitiable but then really not at all. So, that moment of recognition of not at all is magic. Literature.
Many times I like to feel and see it without ever saying it, "I love you!"^^
George, after reading your reconstruction , I felt this wave of love or gratitude that I’m a member of Story Club. And no I’m not drunk.