Perhaps the most common question I receive — aside from “Ever think about mixing in a salad occasionally?” and “Just what’s wrong with you, anyway?” — is this one: “Why do you write?”
I never have a very original answer. I mumble something about a deep inner compulsion and not being very good at anything else and a latent desire for self-abuse — all of which are, to varying degrees, valid reasons.
And then I get a letter like this one, from an early reader of The Summer Son who provides the best answer imaginable: I write to share an emotional experience with other people.
Very good. Blown away by the ending. But I think I found the key sentence in the entire book:
“There is no universal standard for judging a man; it’s all a matter of degrees and a question of where you stand.”
Truer, wiser words have never been spoken, my friend. But am I right? Does this sentence pop for you like it does me?
I am so glad you let me read this book. I have a bazillion questions for you, and in time, hope we can speak about it.
Mom kept pestering me to finish it, and as I just got my reading glasses from Costco last night, I was able to tackle it in earnest. She was biting her lip to not spoil it in any way, but wanting so much to discuss it with me, apart, that is, from her high praise for your style and technique. We both agreed that it was taut, economical, and though I did not use the word out loud in front of her, I found your style “non-masturbatorial.” You know, where a writer can’t help but toss in some purple prose just for the sake of showing off, therewith sacrificing the integrity of the narrator’s voice. I’m glad you refrained from that, even though you could have, had you wanted to. Mom says it is because you’re a real newspaper man. Ronald Tobias, my writing teacher and mentor over at MSU, used to say, “Good writing, as well as bad writing, can get in the way of storytelling.” I find it highly commendable that you left the mustard in the fridge, to paraphrase the late, great Chick Hearns.
I refrained from bringing out the yellow highlighter till the end, when I found the aforementioned sentence, then said fuck it, and began highlighting away. I’m gonna want to use it lots in the re-read, and scribble notes in the margins, too. … It really is good, you know. I can see now why Mom has muttered over and over again how much she wishes Oprah would read it and add it to her collection of works she’s endorsed. For some reason, Mom thinks many people should read it. I think she’s right, and I think it’s because you tapped into the reality that we never really know everything we think we know, especially when it comes to our parents, and their personal histories. I suspect that what happened to Jim as a boy happened to my father, and it haunted him till his death, too. And was a giant splitting wedge in their intimacy.
It’s good, Craig, and it’s good like Edward was good, but in a much different way. Edward was quirk and Mitch was angst, but both characters are equally believable and likeable, even with their idiosyncracies. Mitch is everyman, not Superman. Mitch is honest, wrong, lost, but good-hearted. His character arc is huge, and he grows and changes about as much as a person can grow and change, which usually isn’t very much, but it’s enough and it’s a fair atonement for all the hell the author put us through getting him to the other side.
I’ve learned a lot, and hopefully, grown some from reading your words.
Again, thank you. It’s an honor I hope I can someday repay.
Thanks, Jeremy, for that.