Recently I have been enjoying the work of Neil Gaimon, an Irish writer of very fanciful stories. In his introduction to “Trigger Warning,” he asks, “Are fictions safe places? Should they be safe places?” Very good questions, I think.
He says a resounding, “No,” and warns us that his stories to be about upsetting things that may even involve helplessness or overwhelming odds. He wants to show the lives of characters who are vulnerable and in the presence of others who are of little or no help, some being part of the problem. Only then, he says, does fiction provide the reader with an opportunity to find meaning, to experience connection, to have real feelings about life evoked in him from the words, to actually experience the story and be affected by it.
The stories I like to read are not about safe places, nor are the ones I write. They are often – perhaps nearly always – about people seeking safe places, or at least safer places without the expectation that they will find them. Sometimes they do, at least in part, but most often what they find is only a bit safer and only because they have become stronger at dealing with something that has remained imperfect. Stronger but still imperfect, as we all remain.
This is how stories shine a light on the resiliency of the human spirit. It’s how they reflect life. It’s how they become serious.
What is your favorite story of struggle and success, however partial that success? It may be a story you’ve read, or it may be part of your own experience. I hope you will tell us about it. I hope you will help make a conversation about this.