My newly released book entitled The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society, based on the stories of six female geniuses bumbling their way through the grim era of 1919. They’re trying to make sense of the practical in their time. More importantly, they’re trying to grab their share of the happiness they deserve using only the tools they’ve got. So what?
How can you and I, as serious readers, buy a book like that when the characters are often cheerful, their stories improbably optimistic, and even their names are so stilted that to hear them in the physical world would be astronomically rare? Where does one get off approaching such a tough era through humor and gentle irony when there’s so much terrifying stuff going on? If I’m going to write faithfully to the condition of the world, shouldn’t l start dark and descend from there? Shouldn’t I use a degree of shock more appropriate to the gravity of the day? Wouldn’t anything else be patently dishonest? It’s a problem, because I don’t want to write for the purpose of only shock or distraction. So, how do I deal with the sheepish feeling that comes over me when I look at the lists of new releases approaching serious subjects in thoughtful and powerful ways? Why was my breezy tale of 1919 written at all? In other words, so what?
One reason might be that if we covered the material in history class instead, many of us would fall asleep, some of us would fail the final, and almost none of us would remember that suffrage wasn’t a tea party debate that finally won the heart of Congress. People fought for it, and some of them didn’t make it. A breezy tale with brilliantly flawed characters might be more effective at reminding us of that than sixty assigned pages in the textbook.
Maybe the textbook, in its effort to give us the information, neglected to seize upon our idealism, without which we cannot survive. Maybe there’s a more rousing example in a cheerfully optimistic, gets-up-when-she’s-knocked-down character than another droned recitation of battles fought, documents signed and lessons forgotten. Do we see ourselves in the textbook, or do we see a half-real past that has nothing to do with us, because the book forgot to ask us to rouse ourselves and maintain our resolve, the way these optimists with the stilted names could?
For some of us at a certain age, there are joys in life we cannot revisit, but those breezy characters with the stilted names can. They can find the reader who believes that life is an art form to be lived beautifully, or the one who believes that such rubbish is elitist and deluded. Light-heartedness has many uses, and is not necessarily superficial just ask Charlie Chaplin. Humor and serious issues have partnered or acted as foils for one another through the centuries. Those genius morons can tell us a great deal about themselves and their time, us and ours. Call them what we will, but we don’t dare call them unrealistic, because we, too, are bumbling our way through the grim era of 2010. We, too, are trying to make sense of the practical in our time and, most importantly, we, too, are trying to grab our share of happiness using only the tools we have.
ABOUT G.F. SKIPWORTH
G.F. Skipworth has toured much of the world as a concert pianist, symphonic/operatic conductor, composer and vocalist, but also worked in speech, comedy and academic writing. Educated at Whitman College, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and UCLA, he sat down recently to compose, and a four-volume fiction series came out instead. Moving to historical fiction, he has recently released The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society, based on the suffrage movement in 1919. Upcoming works include The Madonna of Dunkirk and The World-Weary String Quartet of Alliance, Nebraska. You can find out more about his book at www.rossbarebooks.com
Edielou Zingarella, leader of the “Mighty Five”) – Edielou chose not to marry, citing neither lack of time nor interest. She sat up nights adding and subtracting the numbers, figuring the capital lost to the bartenders and local pool sharks, clothing for the mistress and flowers for the funeral following the discovery of his infidelity…and it all just didn’t add up. Reopening a gold mine in Manitoba was preferable to striking out on the maddening sea of matrimony. She put the calculations in the wall safe with the rejected loan applications for that year, and declined to visit those numbers again. No suitor ever made it down the garden path…well…Hank Wiessenschtanker almost made it, but Henrietta, Edielou’s Great Dane, headed him off at the swinging gate, just short of the weeping willow. If this whining, poetry-spewing flower bearer thought for a moment that he would gain the secrets to the wall safe, or that anyone would be paraded about as Edielou Wiessenschtanker, he was in immediate need of correcting. Her resolve buttressed the flagging matriarchal creed of Simpering, and not a solitary woman from town changed her name out of matrimonial necessity for another thirty years…and even the one instance happened for the sake of a departing soldier. Why, no sooner had he set foot on French soil than she went to the courthouse and changed it right back…Edielou Wiessenschtanker, indeed!”