Friday, March 22, 2013

R.I.P. Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe has died. His book, "Things Fall Apart," written in 1959, did not enter my world until one (or maybe both) of my daughters read it in school. I picked it up and found it a chilling read.

In the book, a man who comes from a unsuccessful family achieves great fame and attains the prosperity that eluded his father. But things fall apart, as the title says. He beats his wives, hurts people, kills intentionally and accidentally. His final wrong, which he views as justified vengeance leads him to take his own life.

From a writing standpoint, it is a classic example of an author pushing a protagonist closer and closer to the edge. Trouble, danger, more trouble, more danger equals a reader turning page after page---something I'm trying to take to heart as I revise a bunch of short stories.

The other morning, M and I had a conversation kind of about the dangerous mis-steps that present themselves in this life. Neither of us feels that we are above or beyond doing something bad. I'm sure we have our separate reasons for feeling that way, but she and I agreed that we are unlikely to say, "Oh, I'd never do anything like that...." Whatever that may be. I've long had a weirdly morbid fear that I could end up in jail.

A fellow writer pointed out the other day that my protagonists are often on the run.

I hope every day to be a better person, but I often feel that the woman I want to be is ahead of me, turning the corner, slipping out of sight. I ache for goodness, seek it everywhere, but I do not take it for granted. I feel that I could be doing a better job at almost everything. Mind you, I'm not berating myself here. I'm not looking to be reassured. I know I do many good things in the course of a day, but moment by moment when the day is replayed, there are things I don't like.  I don't really take much comfort in the " did the best you could at the time" philosophy. Really? I ask myself. Really? Did I? Maybe I could have done better. I like wondering about that, actually. Wondering what might have been different.

I also like getting my characters into more and more peril while I try my best to stay out of danger. But it's always good to imagine that moment when everything might change. "In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo's machete descended twice and the man's head lay beside his uniformed body." Writing-wise, that's pretty swell. I like how it's the machete descending--as if it is doing the deed, rather than Okonkwo himself. That is exactly how things fall apart.

1 comment:

Ms. Moon said...

I completely relate to this. To how I say out of one side of my mouth, "I am doing the best I can," and then out of the other, "But no. This cannot be my best."
I never read that book. I picked it up and started it and I don't know what happened. I laid it down. I should pick it up again. Things do fall apart. Sometimes they come together but we know the ultimate outcome. This knowledge sometimes gives me great pain and sometimes it is the most reassuring thing I can believe.