Have you ever read a book and seen parts of yourself?
I mean, really. Who hasn’t?
But right now I’m reading one, and whether it’s because of my particular life stage–very memorable and identifiable: that of Parenting Young Children–or because of the talent of this author, or some combination of the two, I keep half-smiling, half-grimacing as I read.
I should rush in with the inevitable (and also true) caveat that I really don’t see much of myself in this quad of unhappy characters. I feel lucky to be passionately in love with my husband of fifteen years. And my children delight me way more than the ones two of these characters are raising do.
Still, the author gets some moments just. so. right.
Like when the mother, who’s also scrabbling to maintain a freelance career, is trying to finish up a piece while her children clamor for attention. Her voice takes on “a shrill edge of panic when three year old Noah pound[s] his small fists on the door.” How I have worked to keep sheer panic from streaking my own voice. I’m not dangling off a cliff edge–quite–but there’s something about needing desperately to work– wanting to really, which in some way makes things worse–while at the same knowing that your kids need you. Something about being torn almost in two. We’re meant to live our lives in one piece.
When an author gets details like these so right you want to cry and grin and scream all the same time, and you happen to be a writer, you can’t help but compare your own work. Are there moments in mine that will make readers feel such a bolt of connection? In another piece I’m working on about the genre of psychological suspense, I refer to empathy as the essence of reading.
This author did better than make me empathize with her characters. She made me feel like they’d empathize with me.