Thursday, May 8, 2008

saying the hard thing

From: Nicole

I finished reading Always a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed it very much, and my mind is still dwelling on it, which is a clear indication that it's a good book. I have to admit that I didn't like it quite as much as I liked The Blue Place and Stay, partly because I really enjoy reading about Aud making things -- woodworking, gardening, building -- and this is mostly absent from Always. I also like the vigilante justice aspect of the first two Aud books, which isn't something Aud herself brings about in Always (although Sandra does, at least from her own perspective). On the other hand, though, the interplay between Aud and her mother is priceless, and I do like seeing Aud off balance for once. The Atlanta storyline is excellent (in my humble opinion), and I'm very impressed with your ability to create and share 10 different and highly individual characters in so few scenes.

My question is about Else Torvingen's reaction to Kick's MS. She effectively tells her daughter, "If you love this person, you will get hurt, because her life might not be easy or long. You should not let yourself love her." I understand a parent's desire to protect her child from being hurt, but that's a brutal -- even heartless -- attitude. Is this something you and Kelley have actually come up against? This hits close to home because a very close friend of mine has been diagnosed with a rare, terminal (maybe next month, maybe ten years from now) heart condition. Although dealing with it isn't easy for either of us, it would never occur to me to abandon her -- and anyone who suggests that I should, just for my own convenience, would lose my trust pretty quickly. So far no one has voiced this opinion, but it's chilling to think that it could happen.

Thank you for writing such thought-provoking books (and blogs) -- I'm already looking forward to the eventual Hild novel!

The short answer is that Else is Norwegian. Norwegians--like lots of English people--say what Americans often just sort of think but wouldn't dare say. She's protecting her daughter the best way she knows how by saying: think about this, think hard and long. She does make it clear that she'll back Aud's choice, but she needs to know Aud has actively made an informed decision.

No, no one has ever said that to Kelley (as far as I'm aware, and I believe I'd be aware of any such conversation), but I bet you any money some people thought it. And I'm pretty sure my mother would actually have said it to me if my position and Kelley's had been the other way around. I would have forgiven her--she's my mum--but I would have wanted to slam her face in the fridge door a couple of times.

One of the reasons I wrote Always was to explore MS from another angle. I used to ask myself: if Kelley had been diagnosed with a debilitating, incurable illness would I have been brave enough to stay? Lots of people aren't. (Though--surprise--more men leave their wives than wives leave their husbands, proportionately speaking. I don't know the stats for same-sex couples.) So this novel was a way of exploring that fictionally (much as Slow River was a way for me to explore some of the questions I used to have about parts of my life). I had decided, of course, before I wrote Always that I'll stay with Kelley no matter what--I'm stubborn that way--but I still felt the need to really think it through, to What If.

As for those ten self-defense student characters: thank you. At the editing stage I was strongly advised to reduce the number of women, combine some characters with others so that the class was only seven or eight. But I'd fallen in love with each of them by that point--I saw them, knew what they wore, who they were married to, how they felt about their jobs--and simply refused to consign any of them to oblivion. I'm stubborn that way.

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