Monday, January 25, 2010
The Lottery: A Guest Post by Patricia Wood
Today is an exciting day for me. I get to discuss a book here on the blog and this afternoon at work. I love a good book and I love discussing books. I've already had a few brief discussions with others either through email or with those who've popped into my office and it seems the The Lottery is the perfect fodder for discussion. I was thrilled when Patrica Wood, the books author agreed to write something for the club. This is the second time we've been joined by a book's author, it adds so much to the enjoyment of the day and the discussion.
A note about the following post. Patricia sent me this via email and when I cut and pasted it into my blog, it lost all formatting. As much as I tried, I simply couldn't keep it. So I've 'paragraphed' it according to my reading of it. I apologize now to Patricia if I inadvertently shifted meaning in any way. I apologize to my readers for not having better computer skills. However, acknowledging errors as my own - here's what Patricia had to say ...
ANSWERING YOUR CRITICS OR I DON’T HAVE TO EXPLAIN MYSELF DO I?
Lottery has been out 2 ½ years. I’m still amazed at the reactions I get. Everything from “Gee, it was a fun ‘beach read.’” To “I’m making it required reading for my classroom to address the issue of empathy.” Or even “I’m using it for a door-stop or for propping up the short leg on my kitchen table.” And finally. “Why’d you use so many F-words?”
As for me? I like the idea that my novel engenders empathy and compassion.EMPATHY: Understanding another’s feelings. Compassion.COMPASSION: Concern. Kindness. Consideration.This is different than tolerance which implies a sort of hierarchy i.e. I will go out of my way to be superficially nice to you because I’m so much better than you… Although I was a classroom teacher and focused on disability and diversity in my PhD work, my primary goal (if I’m to be utterly honest) was to tell a compelling story that resonated with readers.
There’s a negotiation which takes place between a reader and an author: Authors bring their creation to fruition using their life experiences and you as a reader bring your life experiences into the mix when you read.No reader will get the same message when they read the same book. No one gets the same meaning from a particular collection of words. Everyone’s interpretation will be slightly different.My premise was to see if I could convince a reader that Perry L. Crandall exists. That he is real. That he is a living, breathing human being. That you are all, in fact, reading his story from his own particular and unique point of view.
It’s very hard not to bristle up like a mother hen when work you are passionate about is criticized. It’s like someone telling you your child has flaws. Yet, there should always be room for debate about an author’s intent and whether or not that author is successful in achieving that intent. There are times when someone says LOTTERY is exactly like Forest Gump and I have to shake my head. We are willing to accept myriad stories about some single 30-something woman in New York City looking for a husband and wearing Jimmy Choos, yet we seem not to appreciate the nuances of characters who define themselves as slow. We have difficulty appreciating that there are many portrayals of those who have mental challenges that do not have to be either Lenny in Of Mice and Men or the savant in Forest Gump. They can be subtle variations of either.
The self-identification of slowness is not unique to Forest Gump or even my character Perry. My students who had cognitive challenges or who were described by those-who-find-a-need-to-label as developmentally disabled, all preferred to call themselves slow, rather than embrace the more brutal and limiting terms that society tends to use.We all go at our own speed. And maybe speed is how we should see things. We all arrive at the same destination, just at different times.
I take pride in foiling those-who-find-a-need-to-label by not giving Perry any descriptor such as Down syndrome or autism or learning disabilities? Would it allow you understand him better?I think not.But I can call Perry an optimist like many of my students were. Like I am.Do I berate myself because I can’t be a nuclear physicist or run an Olympic marathon? No of course not. But I can watch Discovery Channel and be amazed at scientific breakthroughs or jog for exercise and dream I'm heading towards a finish line while I do so.
My students didn’t sit around my classroom bemoaning the fact they couldn’t do something. They celebrated and enjoyed the things that they could.Is LOTTERY flawed?For some readers maybe, for others, no.Does it do what I set out to accomplish?For some readers yes, for others no.Will everyone appreciate LOTTERY?No, but then I didn’t expect everyone to. No book resonates with all readers.When I imbued Perry with honesty, made him naive, gave him wants, needs and sexual desires, made him a little bit single-minded and self-centered, I also gave him a generous spirit. I made him at times conflicted and confused and supremely happy, just as we all have been at some point in our lives. I had him grieving for those he lost and appreciating those who were his friends.When I did these things, I did them with the expectation readers could find a commonality between themselves and Perry.Because when we recognize how very much alike we all are, even though we use a wheelchair, or a guide dog, or require assistance or adaption in some way, to navigate life, when we are able to celebrate our differences, it is then we start to really value our fellow human beings.
I know how Perry L. Crandall would respond to this possibility.He’d say, “That would be so totally cool!”This is true.This is echt.