Sue Guiney is an American who has lived in England for almost twenty years. Tangled Roots, her first novel, is a story about the interconnection of two people's lives, a son and his mother, and the difference between their perceptions of what "really happened." Her poems and short stories have appeared in a variety of literary journals and her first collection of poetry, Dreams of May, has been published by Bluechrome Publishing.
Giveaway alert! Sue is giving away two signed copies, one of Tangled Roots and one of Dreams of May, to lucky readers who correctly answer the questions at the end of this post!
I’ve spent most of the past few days in bed with the flu. I wish I could say that when I’m sick like this, all I ever want to do is take to my bed with a good, long novel, but it’s just not true. And really, what’s the use of lying? So here’s the truth…I find my comfort, physically, psychologically, emotionally, in romantic comedies. I have a secret stash of Meg Ryan videos. Kevin Kline’s performance as the ne'er-do-well Frenchman in French Kiss is one of my all-time favorites. Okay, call me shallow. Call me silly. But at least I’m honest.
So in-between my morning and afternoon naps, I flicked on the TV to see what was showing. The result: Love Happens, with the eternally earnest and girlish Jennifer Aniston playing against and with the almost unbearably adorable Aaron Eckhart. The premise is that an inspirational speaker who helps people move on after bereavements has never actually dealt with his own loss. He encourages people who attend his workshop to “face their fears.” He proclaims that you can indeed make lemonade out of a life full of lemons. In the end, he finds the ability to accept his wife’s death through the understanding of a good woman, the forgiving hug of his father-in-law, and indeed, the release back to nature of his pet bird. Yes, I know…..And I know that I may be stretching the genre here but to me it’s all the same. Boy meets girl. Boy almost loses girl through a variety of events, humourous or otherwise. Boy gets girl after resolution of said events.
Some may call this merely nauseating. Some might say this sort of simplistic psychobabble is actually dangerous. As someone who has had to endure a tragic bereavement of my own, I completely understand the problems involved with making this sort of movie. And yet, I cried throughout the whole thing, laughed when I was supposed to, and felt much better at the end. The two-hours went by in an instant; all flu symptoms blissfully ignored. But as a writer, I have to ask why? How could it be that I am so happily manipulated? How can a film, even a genre of films, make me cheerfully cast off all my critical faculties and fall into every emotional trap the producers set before me? Why am I, a well-educated author of literary novels and poetry, such a rom-com addict?
All my writing stems from character. I go through my life trying to imagine what peoples’ lives are like, how they might respond to circumstances, unusual or not. Even my poetry tends to capture individual moments of emotional truth. I couldn’t write a decent poem about a tree if I tried – and actually, I have. The truths I am always looking for are emotional ones. I suppose they are the only “truths” I really believe in. The whys and hows of human responses are what I write about and, clearly, what I respond to in other peoples’ writings. I want to be manipulated into feeling something. Hell, I long for it. And I’ve come to understand that it is through the use of humour and even sentimentality that feelings are made most real. A teacher once said to me, “You have to earn the pathos, and you do that through humour.” That sort of humour leading to pathos can be not only difficult to accomplish within the wide expanse if a novel, but perhaps also less necessary. But in a poem? A play? Yes, let it be there. A film? For me, this is where it works best.
I know, I may be crucified for saying this. It is much more fashionable to believe that feelings wrought through excess or anger or violence or inscrutability are truer, more deeply felt. But I’m not so sure. Shedding a tear over someone else’s troubles, shallow a portrayal as they may have been given, is still an act of empathy. If one of the most important goals of art is to help us understand the intricacies of the human condition, then who’s to say a film like Love Happens isn’t, actually, art? Or at least a fairly close facsimile thereof…
So I laughed, I cried. I fought through whatever outrage and disgust my rational responses hurled at the screen, and in the end, I felt better. I was even moved to do what all writers hope to do after an emotional experience, namely to write about it. And besides, for two whole hours I didn’t think once about the flu.
...And now for the giveaways! The first reader to leave the correct answer to either question in the comment trail wins the book!
For the novel Tangled Roots:
Q. What does the “Arrow of Time” refer to?
For the poetry play Dreams of May:
Q. What Spanish dance is illustrated on the cover?
Sue Guiney's website: www.sueguiney.com
Her blog: http://sueguineyblog.blogspot.com