Sometimes I wonder if the books I read choose me or if I choose them. The reason I am wondering is because on more than one occasion have I picked up a book, seemingly at random, with the intention of reading it and in it found the solution to a problem I am currently wrestling with in my own writing.
This time it was John Steinbeck who came to the rescue.
When still a teenager, I watched all the movies that James Dean ever made. His life was curt short by a car accident and, therefore, the number of films he starred in were limited. Still, the movies he did make before he died all had an impact on me that stays with me to this day. One in particular that moved me was East of Eden. James Dean’s interpretation of the tormented Cal touched me deeply, as did the overall story of the film. I think the reason why the movie stayed with me is partly because I, as a teenager, grappled with fully comprehending the multi-layered subject matter and partly because I quickly realized that the movie only touches upon a small part of John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name.
Ever since then I have wanted to read East of Eden. Last week, on my weekly visit to the local bookstore, I found the Centennial Edition (Penguin, 2002) and bought it. When I came home, I began reading it immediately.
What does this have to do with my own writing? I am currently writing a short story where the main character is trying to understand the world view of a person who is insane. What I had trouble describing was how an insane person manages to see him/herself as normal and the surrounding world as abnormal. To my great surprise, and relief, I found the following passage in East of Eden, describing insanity:
No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. [—] You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous. [p. 71]
I will bring this passage with me into my own writing and hopefully I will be one step closer to becoming a better fiction writer when the story is completed.
In the words of my friend, the Australian: I shall return.