Is it really fiction?

“Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.”
-Marcel Proust

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how we can unconsciously make such strong connections to works of fiction. We know the story isn’t real, but somewhere in there we have found a little bit of ourselves. Sometimes it’s a character’s reflection of ourselves, our past revisiting us in a new form, or perhaps even a story we long for for ourselves. Probably the most common of these connections is that between ourselves and a character. We tell ourselves that they’re not real, and yet when they’re happy, we smile with them; when they sorrow, we share their tears; when they grieve, we mourn the loss of a friend; when they achieve great things, we feel a little taller; and when they break with their conscience, we experience guilt.

We want the best for this person we’ve grown attached to, and we often find ourselves unable to stop reading. And when we’ve found a little bit of ourselves in a character, we wait with bated breath to find out how their story will end, hoping to uncover a little hope for our own lives down the road. Such is my case. My logic and reason scream at me to ignore this emotional nonsense as I usually do, but these cries go unheeded. Why, I cannot explain. I deeply believe in the power of the mind, but there seem to be times when something strikes a resounding chord within us that no tricks of the mind can dampen.

It took me a few days after I first met this character to finally nail down what was bugging me. Over the years, I had grown weary, deeply cynical, and bitter to much of the world. Beaten down too many times and having lost too much, I began quietly shutting out the rest of the world without even realizing it. Emotions, people, you name it all got sorted into appropriate areas of my walled gardens while I tended to my fortified keep. The author will never know it, but she created a striking mirror for me in her character. We had each started out in life very differently but had ended up in much the same place, and he was undeniably miserable. That was it! That was what was nagging at me!

As diligent as I am in observing others, I had somehow overlooked my own downfall. This just wouldn’t do. It’s not the kind of change that’ll happen overnight; I’m about three years in now and still struggling. I’m still weary and I’m actually becoming even more cynical, but the bitterness is lessening and I’m slowly dismantling those walls. And recent events with my character have given me new hope for my future.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m sharing this with you, other than to marvel at the power stories and books can have over us and to encourage you to explore the great literary world. You truly never know what will come of your adventures. I had started to turn against literature thanks to some unsavory experiences in so-called education and never imagined that a book — of fiction, of all things — could change my life, but now I can hardly bare to imagine in what deep bog I would have eventually mired myself had I continued down my path.

I still try to remind myself that this has all just been the product of an author’s imagination. I suppose I owe her imagination a great deal of gratitude, then.