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  • Amy Q. Barker

What I’m reading now and why

Updated: Jul 22

Moral dilemmas set to fiction: Intriguing!

I'm always fascinated when an author portrays an amazingly interesting story while also tackling a bigger picture topic. This is the reason I love Ayn Rand. Heck, she started a whole new philosophy doing this! (objectivism) Somehow she cushioned her philosophy and other heavy subject matter into intricately woven tales of love, peril, and bravery. Not to mention, in Atlas Shrugged, her protagonist had three legitimate love interests - this was a revelation to me! Prior to this, the novels I read usually included a love triangle or the pursuit of one love connection. But isn't it more realistic to describe characters who have rich love lives, with multiple partners? I like it when an author goes outside the norms of conventional wisdom in order to drive a theory home. Ayn Rand did this - with her characters and with her philosophy. She was brave!

“It isn't that she's given me to you--it is that she's given you to yourself.”

The quote above is from a story I just finished reading: "The Touchstone." It was included in a handful of collected stories (novellas) by Edith Wharton. I was obsessed with Edith Wharton about 20 years ago, but because many of her novels end sadly, I had to stop reading her (even if her writing is exquisite!). I would feel so awful for the characters at the end, that I would actually cry and be in a funk for days. Unfair! Unjustified! Uncalled for! Why make us fall in love only to crush our souls! Okay, maybe I was being overly dramatic about the whole thing, too invested, but still, I couldn't do it anymore.


Then I picked her back up a year or two ago, despite my earlier trauma (starting with The Glimpse of the Moon, which ends quite well!). When reading "The Touchstone" as well as "Sanctuary," Edith is looking at a point-in-time aspect of the character's lives, but also at the projected consequences of their actions over a lifetime. It is interesting to me that the main characters in both stories are wrestling with moral dilemmas - should I do that thing that I know I shouldn't do, but I really, really, really want to do? Mrs. Wharton is amazing at writing the subtle nuances of societal pressures with historical context. You feel for her characters and you understand why they make the choices they do (even when you know it's the wrong one!) because they are weighing the risks of both sides (often choosing the lesser of two evils).


And I love the choices Edith Wharton makes when writing. I must assume that much of her dialogue (so realistic, witty, and spot-on) is taken from real-life. I can almost see her sitting back in one of those Victorian fainting couches, observing a room full of silk and corsets, drinking in the veritable gold mine of gossip and confidential tales.


I think my own writing vastly inferior to Mrs. Wharton's (who wouldn't?!), however, I do try to make my characters realistic, thoughtful, and open to learning. If there is a moral dilemma (spoiler alert, there are quite a few in Rue), I work with my characters to ensure their intelligence, cunning, resilience, and courage enables them to survive (and thrive!) with the consequences of their actions.


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© 2020 by Amy Q. Barker