Revising Leah

September 30, 2008

Leah’s Existential Crisis (Things I Like #5)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:21 pm
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Late in the novel, Leah suffers her lowest emotional point. Crying in her bedroom, she ponders the deepest of questions:

Leah wished her shyness was something physical, something she could show a doctor and have amputated. It always seemed to get in the way; it always prevented her from doing what everyone in the world told her she ought to be doing: talking to people, making friends, falling in love. She couldn’t amputate it though. Her shyness was buried deep inside, and there was no way to take hold of it and get rid of it. All she could do was hate her shyness, hate what it had done to her life, and hate herself for being shy.

She rolled over onto her stomach, closing her eyes and burying her face in her pillow. So many questions filled her mind. Why did she have to be the only girl at school who was shy? No one else had any trouble talking to people or making friends. It didn’t seem fair. Why me? she asked herself. Was this what her life would always be like? Was this moment, alone in her bedroom, unhappy, not only her present and her past but her future as well? She had so many questions, but here in the isolation of her bedroom, there were no answers. Only silence surrounded her and offered itself-the same silence that had been her lone companion throughout her life. Only silence; always silence.

In the darkness of her pillow and in the silence of her room, she made a wish. She wished that she wouldn’t be shy anymore. She wished she could make friends. She wished that she knew what to say whenever someone spoke to her. She wished she could talk and laugh as easily as her classmates. She wished that her parents wouldn’t have to worry about her anymore. She wished she could belong to this noisy world. She wished she could be normal. She wished hard, as hard as she could, but when she lifted her head from her pillow, took a deep breath and looked around, she found that nothing had changed. The right words did not spring into her head, she still had no friends, and nobody was in love with her.

I was a student in college when I wrote the first draft of Leah. Back then, I was very interested in existential philosophy, reading all the Sartre and Camus I could get my hands on. I’ve outgrown that now, but at the time it influenced me quite a bit. I don’t think I ever realized, though, just how much of that philosophy was seeping into the novel that I was writing. I don’t think I ever made the conscious decision to put an existential slant to my story, but last April, when I read this novel for the first time in nearly a decade, I was struck by how much existentialism there is in the book. As I’ve revised, I’ve tried to preserve — if not enhance — that element of the story, and the passage above is probably the clearest example of its presence. The bleakness and emptiness of Leah’s life seems ripe for an existentialist’s treatment. I don’t think I’d call the book “an existential novel” — that might be taking it too far (and is there even such a thing as an “existential young adult” subgenre anyway?), but just as The Spring flirts and toys with both Christian and pagan imagery and motifs, so does Leah flirt with existentialism.


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