Why We Read

So often writers sacrifice their characters so that we, the readers, may experience a different outcome.  In David Jauss’ story Glossolalia, the protagonist is consumed by regret.

“Perhaps if I had said yes, we might have talked about that terrible day… and I could have told him what I had since grown to realize—that I loved him. That I had always loved him, though behind his back, without letting him know it. And, in a way, behind my back, too. But I didn’t say yes…”

I think of E.M. Forster’s urgent plea, “Only connect.” Again and again, writers show characters missing their chance and make us experience the depths of their pain.  They sacrifice their characters so that we may learn and do differently.  Connecting often takes courage.  It requires awareness.  So many of the stories we read and the poems we hear teach us this lesson.  And I learn and relearn it.

Jauss’ story keeps going, and the ending is complex, heartbreakingly so.  The son turns from the grief and regret of his relationship with his father towards some sort of redemption through his son.  And yet this was the very problem which caused the heartbreak in the first place.  He does not realize it, but as the reader, I see his blindness, and I find myself wondering, How may I be doing the same?  How much do I think I am doing things differently even as I pass on what I received from my parents, that which was passed to them…

I have a discomfiting awareness of my blind spots. I sense them without being able to see into them.  What do I know of their size or location?  This is another reason I read—to remain in touch with what eludes me, surpasses me.  The young father in Jauss’s story sits on the edge of the bed beside his sleeping son in the wan glow of a nightlight…. What about the light of my awareness?  How far does it reach?  And what lies beyond?

And what about my need for salvation? Where will it take me? And where does it take any of us? We can never know what we don’t know, but we can feel how immersed we are in a world made complex by need, grief, and love. I came away from Jauss’ story suffused with a sense of this complexity, humbled by it, softened…

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