I have a new novel in mind. Actually, it's a story that's been nagging me for years.
It's the story about the relationship between my parents.
It's not a pretty story. It's not inspirational, uplifting or full of tenderness.
It is a love story, though, for my parents loved each other passionately. They also did their utmost to destroy one another.
It's an interesting story because my father was an extreme example of the domineering male while my mother was so passive as to be almost immobilized.
Except that she was beautiful so people wanted to look at her. And she was brilliant so people wanted to converse with her.
My father, too, was brilliant, making a name for himself as a talented trial lawyer. He appeared in newspaper columns as a rising young star, the criminal lawyer who never lost a case.
He believed he could get what he wanted, and he controlled everything in his world right down to the furniture and draperies in the Gatsby-esque house he bought with his newly acquired wealth.
He thought he could control his wife too, improve her, help her overcome her shyness, bring her out of her shell. She tried to be what he wanted--she loved him with every fiber of her being-- and he must have believed that she would become the perfect wife in time. His perfect partner.
But he couldn't control her drinking. And there came a time when she lost everything except this one, powerful, devastating weapon. She could not give up her drinking and my father couldn't make her.
I have letters--achingly sad, longing letters my father wrote my mother begging her to "take care of her health"for the sake of the family he wanted them to raise together--a family of strong, vibrant children able to take on the world because their parents were wise, smart, loving and stable.
My father's career nosedived--carelessness or arrogance played a part, I suspect--but he never wavered in his belief that he could make it all work again. Never stopped pressing my mother to be what he wanted her to be.
In the end, they divorced and my mother died of alcoholism when she was only thirty-eight years old. My father moved, remarried and rebuilt his career. He also became increasingly angry, embittered and cynical. In the end he withdrew from the world he had tried to conquer. He spent the last fifteen years of his life in bed, glued to an endless series of sports shows, unwilling to speak about much of anything at all, least of all, the past.
Here's the thing: for years people have encouraged me to write their story. For years I have felt a deep reluctance.
For a long time I held back because the people involved were still around--notably my father, but also aunts, uncles, family friends. But they are virtually all gone now, so I no longer have that excuse. No one can be hurt by telling their story.
So now I worry that maybe I don't have all the facts.
Of course I don't, I was a child during most of the drama.
Furthermore, I don't even want to write a biography. I'm not motivated to write factually. I don't want to dig out dates, times and events from old newspaper files or the memories of old acquaintances. I'm pretty sure that mode of inquiry will not get me to my parents' motives, thoughts and emotions.
But will making the story a novel serve my parents in the end? Will distorting the facts of the narrative allow access to their emotions? Can turning my parents into characters help me tell the truth about them?
I don't know. I do know their story exerts a powerful pull on me--after all, who they were has a lot to do with who I am.
But there is still the reluctance, the sense that I might be invading holy ground where I have no right to tread.
What do you think? How do you handle stories of people close to you? Or your own, for that matter?