Robinson lived a tortured life. His parents died while he was still a young man. He battled alcoholism. He was in love with his brother’s (Herman) wife Emma. And worked probably the worst day job of all time – 10 hours a day walking the darkness as a New York Subway time-checker. He once went an 11 year stretch without publishing a poem. And when finally published, the critics ridiculed his poetry. But despite life’s beat-downs, he found the fortitude to keep writing.
Dana Gioia snapped my synapses when he shared this definition of the novel:
It’s hard to think of a novel that doesn’t follow this idea. I’m sure there’s some experimental four hundred pager out there, but the novels I truly know all exhibit this tension between the characters inner and outer life.
In Tolkien’s The Hobbit – Bilbo duels between his craving for comfortable Shire life and his Took instincts for adventure.
In Jeff Smith’s Bone – Fone Bone longs to return to Boneville, but harbors a secret love for Thorn who could never follow him there (Graphic novels count too right?).
Or in Jhumpa Lahiri’sThe Namesake – Gogol’s divided between the need to honor his parents and his traditional Indian heritage, and the allure of American success.
Irony threads through all of them. And novels will no longer read the same to me.
Russ Roberts and Dana Gioia’s conversation was inspiring throughout.