Tuesday, August 25, 2009

You Go On A Journey...

A teacher of mine, the late John Gardener, once said that there are only two plots in all of literature. You go on a journey or the stranger comes to town. Or, more humorously, as Stanley Elkin once describe science fiction, you go there or they come here.

I've written about this many times, but I feel the need to say it again here. I've been thinking about this again. It is an idea that has never left me. When I think about women's literature from say Austen to Woolf, it is most often a question of the stranger coming to town. The Mr. Darcys. Someone coming to dinner. A letter arrives. That sort of thing.

Often women's literature is about waiting. But men have had a different route. From Odysseus to Gulliver to Paul Theroux, men have taken to the road, or the sea, and found their stories there. It is an odd dichotomy between the genders. I have often envied men their adventures which don't seem to me to come from waiting for the stranger as much as being the stranger. But perhaps this is just my own restless longing speaking.

I wrote once somewhere, perhaps in NOTHING TO DECLARE, that "life only seemed to come together for me in stories and in journeys and those two narratives - one of the mind and the other of the road - have shaped my life. And perhaps what I have most enjoyed both in my reading and my own writing is when the story and the journey are one.

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