“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” –James Baldwin
There are many books out now about the subject of family—against the background of the pandemic; or in other centuries; perhaps within different cultures; or at different times of one’s life. Clearly this is a structure people need in order to feel safe and whole, and to understand their own life story better. Family, either prescribed by shared DNA or those people we’ve chosen, is the key to how we see ourselves, even though we perpetuate fictions about our ethnicity rather than deal with the facts of it. We don’t have to wait for science to edit the human Genome. We already do that when we write our own narratives. A lot of denial and wishful thinking inhabits our family histories, but when reality crashes up against the stubborn facts, there can be a painful reckoning before we pull ourselves together to start again. And when we look out to see what’s there when the tide recedes, do we deal with it or pretend it’s something else, yet again?
This human dilemma of the meaning and importance of family plays out in various ways. I’ve explored the questions surrounding familial ties entangling my protagonist Emily Alden in the third book of her family history. And I think we can’t realize our full potential until we’ve dealt with the truth about those who came before and those who are yet to come. Do the family stories need to be backed up with incontrovertible evidence or will the memories of others fan the imagination into flames? If the embers have been cold too long to self-combust, will hard facts in the form of letters, pictures, and personal handwriting serve as catalysts to carry our stories to a new level of authority? I think so. And as I present these proofs to my protagonist, her father’s keepsakes, her mother’s portrait, and her lover’s letters rewrite her life in ways no one could have planned, least of all her.
Please, let me know your feelings about the impact of family stories. We all have different ways of hearing them, just as we vary their telling to suit our own needs.