A few weeks ago my granddaughter, Gioia (pronounced JOY-ah) was reluctant to give up her comfort can of Play Doh. Her mother, Clara, insisted, and Gioia ate a large glob of Play Doh (yum!) then made a face of disgust.
Gioia was illustrating one of the basic tenets of fiction writing. To write something real, you have to feel it inside. Gioia was angry. She did not want to relinquish the Fun Factory, but she needed to have a bath. She ate the emotion, and it tasted funny. She swallowed the Doh, and the emotion became part of her psyche.
Excellent writers like Donna Tartt may be writing fiction, but their novels illustrate the real, raw emotions they feel inside. When Donna writes in The Goldfinch “he’d never been able to stand kids or babies either, much less the whole doting-parent scene, dumbly-smiling women feeling up their own bellies and guys with infants bound to their chest,” she’s not kidding. I laughed my head off when I read that, and all of her other scathing comments about children. This woman apparently hates kids, and because she’s writing from the gut, writing what she feels, it comes across as true and hilarious.
There’s a lot about Donna Tartt’s philosophy I disagree with. In The Little Friend she makes it clear that she thinks a lot of Mississippians are inferior, not only because of economic disadvantage, but because they skewer their own opportunities. She comes across as classist and racist. She belittles Newton Knight – a Mississippian I happen to admire.
In The Secret History, one of the great classics of modern fiction, Tartt writes (as if in translation because characters often speak to each other in Classical Greek), “’The mother grieves. Not for her son’, he added hastily when he saw I was about to speak, ‘for she is a wicked woman, Rather she grieves for the shame which has fallen on her house.”” This passage says so much and is hilarious, because it comes across as an emotion of real hatred that Tartt has felt for a person in her own life. I love this writer, even though I rarely agree with her.
If I could have one wish as a writer, it would be to eat the emotion of my prose, taste it, and feel it every time, so that it always leaps from the page as truth.