Friday, May 25, 2012

Family Ties That Bind, Another Literary Pattern

A favorite genre for me, especially now that I am a retired teacher, free to indulge my interests and avoid paths that once constrained me, is the mystery. I am particularly fond of Cozies set in small, quirky villages where a smart, observant detective, by vocation or avocation, must unravel secrets and lies in pursuit of a killer whom no one imagined capable of murder.

Quite often, the murderer is a relative of the victim. More often in fiction and in real crime stories, the murderer is someone who has said, “I love you” to the poor, soon-to-be lifeless corpse. Husbands, wives, lovers, and siblings are the usual suspects, and they are usually guilty. Just ask The Closer, Brenda Lee Johnson, fond of drawling, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

In fact, family ties frequently twist and distort folks into unrecognizable monsters bent upon self-preservation and power. And that, dear readers, is the ugly truth about familial love: sometimes it goes so far south that we cannot find the moon, stars, or sun upon the horizon.

But the good news--and it’s very good news indeed--is that familial love, the love existing between relatives by marriage or blood, can also lift us up to where the angels rest. Love for family can help us overcome our fears and lead us into burning buildings to carry out dear old Dad. It can plunge us into icy waters to pull a brother from below. And it can urge us to risk our own health and sacrifice our sick leave to lose one good kidney and gain more years with our brother, sister, or distant cousin.

Familial love often extends beyond close family members to include people we do not know. We love and admire them because they are human beings, our brothers and sisters on this earth. That directed Brad Pitt to rebuild New Orleans, Sean Penn to dedicate himself to Haiti, and George Clooney to go to jail for human rights in far away Sudan. People without claims to stars on Hollywood Boulevard are also devoted Scout leaders, foster parents, and blood donors, giving of themselves for people they may never know.

Writers are not immune to such calls upon our hearts. Stephen King, for example, spun a story, Dolores Claiborne, around both types of familial love, the one borne in blood and the other in suffering. His titular character risks everything, including her own life, to rescue her daughter from her drunk, abusive father. She also adopts her employer, Vera Donovan, as her family, caring for the sometimes vile, always troubled woman, even when Vera wants Dolores to help her our of this world and her misery. Never saintly, but hard-working and loyal, Dolores puts herself in jeopardy for others.

Nicholas Sparks has filled a library shelf with stories about the wonderful ties that bind us. A Walk to Remember, The Vow, and The Notebook are but three that celebrate true, selfless love. In each, a spouse devotes himself fearlessly to the happiness of another. Even if passion and intimacy expire, love endures to overcome obstacles.

So writers, when casting about for stories, old and new, to study and develop, consider the familial ties that wrap us in their warmth, transforming us into beings nearly angelic. Be fair, however, and consider the familial ties that break and reshape us into bitter, frightening things. Write cautionary tales about them.

Reading Challenge:

If you have not already read Dolores Claiborne, do so now, or if you have read it, re-read it.  You will also enjoy “reading” the film made from this book. Kathy Bates in the starring role registers all the human emotions that lie between love and hate, happiness and regret. She demonstrates that attention must be paid to such a woman.

If you are a fan of lighter, popular fiction, pick up a novel by Nicholas Sparks to witness the heartache and joy that love brings.

Writing Challenge:

Create a character twisted and distorted by love denied. Heathcliff from Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is such a man. Mold your own modern-day Heathcliff, then create a character made strong and bold by love returned. Leah from Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is one.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Commonly Confused Words, Poll and Pole

Poll: the act of voting in an election, the place where an election is held, and the act of rendering our opinion on political matters.

Pole: a long, slender piece of wood.

In the twenty-first century, political campaigns in the United States seem to begin as soon as the votes have been tallied and results posted. We must be fond of bombast and pomposity, of reds and blues because we engage in polls to guesstimate how we will vote long before we go to the polls to cast our vote. In addition, we often affix a poster or placard to a pole and sally forth, hoping to persuade others to see it our way.