I’m reading Michael Ondaatje’s “The Cat’s Table.” It shows a right of passage for an eleven-year-old boy sailing alone from Colombo to London to be reunited with his mother. Passage from one place to another. Journey of change. Ondaatje’s vehicle is the extraordinary independence the boy experiences in the friendships, freedom, risk-taking, and unexpected challenges he finds within the confines of a large, floating, temporary home. He is changed in ways he does not realize until, later in life, he looks back to those twenty-one shipboard days.
Following the boy through the unexpected things that occur when he embraces a degree of freedom he could not have anticipated reminds me of my own less exotic childhood adventures. It encourages me to wonder what might be my most important rites of passage, the ones that may have set the stage I have lived on. I have to smile to think that my current novel project, The Third Floor, is probably a search for my rites of passage cloaked in a story that is – ostensibly – about characters I am making up. That is the freedom serious fiction offers. It opens doors that take a writer back into himself more deeply than he might have imagined.
What rites of passage have you found when you look back, whether as reader or writer? What have you read that penetrates you and makes you look for your own?