Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Serendipitous Stuff of Story

Happy accidents. Serendipity. Random encounters that alter the course of a life--such is the stuff of story.

Those who cannot suspend disbelief or whose horizons are near, not far, may not approve of this literary feature. They find fault and announce, “Ah, that can’t happen.” But magic happens every day, and miracles are common enough for us to hope for them in our own lives. Allow me to illustrate.

The work of Khaled Hosseini has been judged for surprising intersections in fate. Could a real-world Amir, for example, actually stumble upon a beggar who knew Amir’s long-sought mother? Some critics say, “No.” The author says “Yes,” that improbable moments occur everywhere, every day.

And they do. Beggars, palm-readers, and strangers tell us what we need to hear because of our need for the information. Whether the beggar Amir met actually knew Amir’s mother is not as relevant as what he represents: the terrible toll that the Taliban and war exacts from those who must exist in such times.

What lies around the bend may be the
person, the moment that alters our lives
forever--that's the stuff of story and the
reason hope inspires us onward.
Photo courtesy of Al Griffin
Anthony Doerr’s poetic novel, All the Light We Cannot See, tells tales of terrible tolls, too. Like The Kite Runner, Doerr’s novel includes surprising intersections and miraculous outcomes.

Marie Laure is Doerr’s most vulnerable character. She is blind and uses a cane to move through this world. Its rhythmic tapping draws attention to her and makes her diseased, opaque eyes below snow-white hair more arresting.

Dangerous, greedy German soldiers take note of her. Opportunistic, occupied Frenchmen notice her, too. Still she survives against great odds.

Marie survives an exodus from Paris to Saint Malo, a long walk into the unknown without food, sturdy shoes, warm clothes, or sufficient water. She survives bombs that blast most buildings into dust, her own shelter as strong as a fort. She works for the French Resistance and is found out, but survives. She’s suspected of harboring a secret about the Sea of Flames, but outwits her interrogator.

Indeed, at war’s end, she returns to the Paris apartment she and her father fled. There she resides with her great-uncle, raises a daughter, and reflects upon those lost and found through the war’s seemingly random intersections.

Marie Laure’s story is improbable but does not close with a logical fault. It closes with a nod to the happy accidents that give life meaning.

As humans and readers, we mourn lives lived without purpose, sins unredeemed at life’s end, and regret without enlightenment. Literature grants us each of these: purpose, redemption, and enlightenment. Let us resist judging it as a fault to do so.

Reading Challenge:

Read each of Hosseini’s books: The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. Also read Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

Writing Challenge:

Identify the happy accidents that lead to a satisfying conclusion in any of the four books offered for the Reading Challenge.