Friday, October 19, 2007

The power of stories

Garrison Keillor, writing the introduction to the Book of American Short Stories, 1998, discusses the power of stories, the desire people have for stories to be real, the way stories can reveal truths. He talks of Anne Frank:

One October night in 1942, we learn, these Jews in hiding in Amsterdam enjoy the joke "What makes 999 ticks followed by one tock? A millipede with a clubfoot," and a great discovery dawns on us: that the fourteen-year-old Anne Frank is not keeping this diary as a testament against hatred and darkness, that is is simply a writer's notebook: the girl hopes to be a novelist. She writes: "Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a romance of the 'Secret Annexe.' The title alone would be enough to make people think it was a detective story. But, seriously, it would be quite funny ten years after the war if we Jews were to tell how we lived and what we ate and talked about here."

It was the Nazis who made Anne Frank a martyr and a symbol; she herself would much rather have been a satirist. If only she had survived the prison camp, she might have come out tiwh a novel in 1955 with a passionate love scene between a girl and a boy in an attic full of moonlight, their lips pressed close, her hand on his waist, his hand under her skirt, and in the room below, adult listening for the police at the door and hearing only the lovers' sighs from upstairs. She didn't aim to be a saint; she wanted to write stories in which real people ate the pot roast and boiled potatoes and talked about childhood, lovers, children, loneliness, and old age.

That strikes me as quite lovely, and very sad, and makes me more determined to make the most of my writing chances.

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