The heartbreak Tolstoy is to me…
The context of this writing is that on Martin Luther King Day 2013 and Obama’s second inauguration where he promises to support greater equality for LGBTQ couples, I’m just finishing reading WAR AND PEACE.
Okay, so I’m a year into WAR AND PEACE and almost finished the tome. Please understand, this is not my reading habit. I avoid long novels because, as a novelist myself, once I get into a novel good or bad they become equally fascinating to me, as I try to understand these aesthetic judgments: What makes this novel good? What makes this novel bad?
What I know before I start is that this novel has been deemed ‘good’ and is ‘a classic’ so the risk is slight. Yet the book is very long, so as slight as the risk is, given its length, if the judgment of critics is wrong it will represent a huge waste of time for me whereas a bad novella represents less risk.
These were thoughts of a year ago, a thousand pages ago. I’ve read many other novels in between, some good, some wonderful, and one big disappointment (and it was long and the critics had assured me I would love this other novel, so yes, there is always a risk). Good or bad, that is not my thought as I’m coming to the end of WAR AND PEACE.
My thought as I come to some of the beautiful passages of heart break and stupidity that Tolstoy tells with unflinching prose, is that this is a profoundly Christian tale, way longer than any of the four gospels, embedded in a completely different historical context and in a completely different climate – instead of the desert we read of Russian winter approaching, then overtaking the army.
This is not the heartbreak. I share Tolstoy’s faith, though mine is weaker than his, I’m quite sure. Yet the sense that WAR AND PEACE is retelling of the Gospels in some passages at least, I find heartbreaking because it calls into question the integrity of storytelling, and of my own ability to know anything about the Gospels. I wonder if what is beautiful to me is merely what confirms my beliefs, a belief wrapped in the intelligibility of the story, the integrity of the story. God is beyond all that, other than that, more than that.
So is all writing an attempt to ‘ef’ the ineffable, as one lover accused me of attempting long ago, pun intended I suspect? I can’t ask him; he left years ago. And is great writing just doing that well, better than I can achieve.
I’m almost finished WAR AND PEACE and then, most likely, I start rereading it.
January 22, 2013