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Pickle Me This

November 7, 2007

Work to do

“I passionately believe a novelist must give her characters work to do. Fictional men and women tend, in my view, to collapse unless they’re observed doing their work… I’ve read novels about professors who never step into the classroom. They’re always on sabbatical or off to a conference in Hawaii. And artist-heroes who never pick up a paintbrush, they’re so busy at the local cafe, so occupied with their love life or their envy or their grief. Does the brilliant young botanist with the golden back-swept hair, one wisp loose at her neck, wander up a brilliant hillside and fill her pockets with rare species? No, we see her only after work or on weekends when she goes to parties and meets young novelistic lawyers who have no cases to work on, no files, no offices, no courtrooms in which to demonstrate their skills. That husky young construction worker does all his sexual coupling between shifts, and with a blonde-headed graduate of Mount Holyoke as his partner– what about that? Just once I’d like to see him with the pneumatic drill hammering against his body, shaking him stupid. But what if the novelist is a Yale grad, and his father before him? What would he know about how that drill kicks and jumps and transfers its nerves into the bones and belly of a human being? We might see the poor guy reach out for humanistic understanding, discovering Shakespeare-in-the-Park or French cinema, something like that, but chances are against seeing him work.”– Carol Shields, Unless

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