Working in the head office of a bookstore chain, I have a lot of literary conversations with my colleagues. We talk about books in many ways, from the clinical business viewpoint (copies sold and margin earned), to the completely personal viewpoint (romantic heroes, childhood dreams), to the sociopolitical viewpoint (ideas that have changed society).
Yesterday we were trying to talk about John Irving, except none of us had read his backlist very recently. Was Cider House Rules the one about abortion? Wasn’t there some horrible accident in The World According to Garp?
Wikipedia to the rescue. The helpful chart of John Irving’s recurring subjects made my day. Deadly accident, sex workers, New England, wrestling, Vienna, bears!
Someday, my friends, someone who loves me will make such a chart about my work, and I’ll finally get to see what the hell I’ve been doing all this time.
There are a few I can check already: magicians and their mentors, queer protagonists, bees/wasps, upstate New York, boxing, characters with drinking problems. But I’ll bet there’s something I’ve missed entirely that will be hilariously obvious once it is pointed out.
And all this ignores the question of why. Some of it is fairly conscious, of course–Gus has a drinking problem because she believes she’s treating her violence problem, and this seemed to me to be a fairly realistic representation of how real-life alcoholics get that way, and once I’d thought that through, it got used with some other characters as well.
Other things… I have no idea about the bees/wasps. I used to get stung a lot (A LOT) and I still have a scar on my calf from a particularly memorable 17-sting waspocalypse. I can see how this would become an important symbol for me… but a symbol of what? What?
Only one way to find out…