My Da couldn’t read fiction. He couldn’t let go of the world. He was too aware of the room in which he sat to merge with the word. He’d try, but feel foolish. He preferred non-fiction. He told me this many years ago, and I sometimes entertained the nagging fear that one day I might find myself in that same inescapable room — unable to sink.
Is fiction merely a means to escape? There are reams of genre writing out there whose sole function is escapism — and people want that, everyone needs to immerse in other realms from time to time (let’s face it, what’s TV other than alt reality?). As a kid I read copious amounts of genre fiction. I wouldn’t say I felt beholden to any niche, but, in my late teens, I recall being profoundly affected by writers such as Bukowski and Kerouac. Stumbling upon a secondhand copy of The Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller, and Death on Credit, by Celine, well, here was a different type of fiction. These were lives turned into fiction, not just auto-biographies, something more.
Books like these were heavily influential, not only for my own writing, but as visions of viewing the world. Some sequences in Nausea, by Sartre, leapt right off the page, reinforcing the validity of experiences that permeated my life at that time. It felt like someone lifted the page of reality, revealing a dynamic mechanism beneath, something permeating the nature of the real, something beyond politics, or social agendas. That, for me, is when fiction fulfils a purpose that is almost sublime: augmenting the world we live in, enabling us to widen our vision.