Sunday, November 23, 2014

What You Call It

Changes in the publishing industry have squeezed novels into painful categories, not just suspense, but romantic suspense, not just mystery, but cozy. Is the world or how novelists view it really so narrow? If publishing’s so difficult anyway, would novelists be better off ignoring those tidy genres? Even if agents are uncertain where a novel fits?

Because many readers crave not just entertainment and intrigue but “What do I now know or think that I didn’t before?” Of course if you spell out all your beliefs, then nonfiction—perhaps blogging—might be the best bet. Because the power of fiction springs from plot’s capacity to change beliefs by firing the imagination.

Tip: A big, thrilling plot can express anything you want. Who cares what it’s called!

Face of our Father, by G. Egore Pitir, isn’t clearly thriller or literary novel, neither all action nor all psychology. It plunges into tough questions. Should good people always be rewarded and bad punished? Do we even know what we mean by “good,” “bad,” “reward,” “punishment”? How terrorists are made?

The Americans apologized. Collateral damage, they called her. By nightfall she was buried. And to this day, it was not the lowering into the ground, nor the shovelfuls of dirt falling on her body, nor the parting prayers, but the ululations of the women, the terrible and glorious wailing of tongues, that never let him rest.

Is murder ever justifiable? Additional “facts” from Pitir’s fiction:

He would reach America. See her cities in ruins. Fields barren, People in tears. Their tall proud Lady crumbled to her knees and ravaged, a headless torso holding a dark torch. He would bring Americans the constant fear of death. He would bring them Afghanistan.

Readers learn that “This was jihad…everyone rushing toward the fire of battle, everyone flaring with passion, everyone’s life so brief.” Americans might know less than we think:

Reaching up, she lowered the burqa’s grille over her face. Felt its comfort and strength. Behind the grille her body seemed to fade away. Breasts, hips and curves vanished, leaving only mind. Angie was no longer body, she was spirit. No one could hurt her beneath the grille. Beneath the grille, she was love, she was mother.

The American woman who tries on this burqa has betrayed her husband. How often can a couple betray each other and remain a couple? What unmakes a terrorist? A marriage? Readers get to wonder if redemption is possible. Which matters more: Justice? Honor? Love?

The bigger the questions, the bigger the shoulders a plot needs. Face of our Father is a broad-shouldered novel of terrorism, computer hackers, torture, betrayal, and adulterous love interwoven with envy, adoration, greed, compassion, and, yes, forgiveness.

Few of us willingly face this father’s face. But ignoring fact or fiction doesn’t change reality. Whatever you call this novel, reading it might might make you consider realities no one wants to face—even inspire you to transcend some assumptions and niches yourself.

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