“The Good Parents” as Extraordinary Story

Stories can hold the sum of mankind’s knowledge, desire, and feelings. We learn better if our information comes in the form of tales. They needn’t be particularly dramatic or scary, but somehow they need to be human, connect to us through emotion.  For me, religions and philosophies are specialized stories, and hard sciences are palatable only if they are related in anecdotal fashion. A friend of mine believes I majored in psychology purely because the case studies resemble mini-tales. 

Everyone has his own story. It might be funny or frightening, instructive or entertaining. It might bore some and excite others. Telling a story well, so others can relate to it easily, is the duty of the writer. I have a long list of types of stories I don’t like: zombies, vampires, blood and gore, evil. Also not keen on most sports or tragedies. Don’t like offerings that include torture. Okay occasionally with deaths. I especially don’t like poorly written work. I know the definition of this varies according to the hearer/reader, but, as the untutored viewer said of art, “I know what I like.” 

I especially adore stories about ordinary people. Now that I think about it, I like stories with characters much like my friends—bright, curious, with kindly impulses, interested in what’s around them.  Like my friends, these characters hit highs and lows, have flaws and fortes. They face the challenge of surviving in a world that often is cruel and uncaring, nourishing within themselves  a careful consideration for their own well being and the same for others.. Examples—“Pride and Prejudice,” “The Things They Carried,” “White Teeth.” 

I’ve found a book that meets my qualifications and is a joy to read. “The Good Parents” by Joan London. Set in the author’s homeland of Australia, it features a teen-aged daughter seeking to reach adulthood through the time-honored fashion—an older man—along with the turmoil experienced by her mother and father, aging semi-hippies. There’s a mystery, in fact several mysteries: will the daughter meet a terrible fate and will a disreputable but powerful man in the mother’s past bring doom?

The beauty of this book, however, is neither plot nor action. Rather, the intricate weaving of the inner thoughts, the external impacts, the complex relationships, of the characters make you read faster and faster, to track the lives of people who somehow seem as close as dear friends or beloved relatives. The main characters as well as the secondary ones upon whom only a few pages may be expended are as faceted and radiant and entrancing as a diamond. Through this treatise on one family’s lives, I grew to appreciate my own more.

“The Good Parents” is truly an example of how ordinary people can have extraordinary lives.

Battle of Sexes Moves to Books

books The battle of the sexes is fun, challenging, and never-ending. A recent combatant, perhaps fighting with a bent lance or a broken sword, is David Gilmour, a Canadian author and professor at the University of Toronto, who refuses to teach women authors. Despite Alice Munroe’s Noble Prize for literature (http://tinyurl.com/l6cvavl) and the presence of talents like Margaret Atwood (www.margaretatwood.ca), he feels there’s a lack of excellence in the majority gender.

He said he “teach[es] only the best” writers, which does not include women. “I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys.”

As a writer and book lover, searching for excellence myself, I’ve spent my life, book open on my lap, desk, table, under or over the covers, entranced and entertained and educated by volumes of all types. I never distinguished between male and female authors, perhaps because I was assured repeatedly by teachers that English uses “he” and “everyone” as general terms for BOTH sexes in the collective. So if someone says, “Every great writer uses his talents,” I take this to include men and women.

When a child and teen I tended toward male writers because their work seemed more complex and interesting to me. As I grew older, I veered more and more toward women. The distinction I see now is that women writers seem to be somewhat more interested in character and internal, psychological growth, than many male writers.

I do admit I feel some questioning, some slight resentment when a male author has a strong, central female character. Just because book reviewers, publications, editors have a bias for male writers and provide much more attention to them than to women. Although most readers and book buyers are women, those in charge (still strongly male) emphasize men.

Gilmour continues to try to explain his remarks, saying they were tossed over his shoulder while conducting another conversation in French and they were meant “jokingly.” Gilmour has a new novel out called Extraordinary, and in his apology, Gilmour notes that the book’s protagonist is a woman, and he hopes his apology will help smooth over any hard feelings.

My theory, having heard a remark at any number of seminars and conferences recently, is that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Certainly Gilmour must be sincere when he says you must teach what you love. But perhaps he and his publisher quickly realized his public profile is strengthened by the controversy. That women, like me, who have never heard of him, now will read his new novel, if simply out of curiosity.

Unfortunately for him, his book will have to go on the bottom of my list, which, at last count, included 13 titles by women and 12 by men, not counting the 24 stacked up on a table, again, fairly evenly divided by gender. Some are even collections or co-authored by women and men. Imagine that.

To see The Atlantic’s take on the discussion, go to http://tinyurl.com/n93jpf6
To see some of the original interview, go to Hazlitt online, http://tinyurl.com/nqak86r
To see a follow-up interview on the topic, go to National Post online, http://tinyurl.com/n7s7rtv