When my wife, Sonia Van Meter, was chosen as one of the 100 finalists for the Mars One Project, a mission to establish a permanent human colony on Mars, I already knew the answers to these questions (yes, a thousand times yes, she has the right stuff), but I wasn’t prepared for just how much it would change the world she and I live in, so to speak.
The value of fiction was clear to Virginia Woolf, who argued that nonfiction consists of half-truths and approximations that result in a “very inferior form of fiction.” In Woolf’s terms, reading ambitious fiction isn’t comfortable or easy. Far from it: “To go from one great novelist to another—from Jane Austen to Hardy, from Peacock to Trollope, from Scott to Meredith—is to be wrenched and uprooted; to be thrown this way and then that.” The illuminations that fiction offers are gained only with considerable effort. “To read a novel is a difficult and complex art,” Woolf wrote. “You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination if you are going to make use of all that the novelist—the great artist—gives you.” When we read actively, alertly, opening ourselves to unexpected discoveries, we find that great writers have a way of solidifying “the vague ideas that have been tumbling in the misty depths of our minds.” For Woolf, fiction provides an essential kind of knowledge that can only be acquired by careful reading.
According to the author, “The purpose of this book is to get lawyers more comfortable with storytelling.” That’s a laudable mission. As an attorney, I think any lawyer who cares about convincing anyone of anything should read this book. Scratch that. Any person who cares about convincing anyone of anything should read this book.
Shapiro’s book is fun, ingeniously clever, bordering on sneaky, with a deceptively easygoing style. He weaves his own stories into examples of how best to tell a tale, and the tone remains conversational, even as he wields language with an ear for its music. He conveys complex concepts in simple, direct terms, and doesn’t pile on the verbiage or ply the passive voice, as so many attorneys are wont to do. Throughout the book, he shows you, even more than he tells you, how storytelling works. As he puts it, “If the book sometimes reads like an excuse to tell stories rather than as a manual on how to tell them, then I have done my job.”
When Sara, at age 30, dumps her husband and two children for Patrick, a devastatingly charismatic British playwright with one buzzed-about play (“Bloody Empire”), a head of dark seductive hair and a terrible temper, what’s left behind is not just “love” but dismay, grief, suppressed rage and a lifetime of unanswered questions.
This thoughtful, funny book is a plea for the middle ground. By the end of his unbuttoned adventures, Smith has widened his idea of what normal can be – and, following him into that sea of flesh, so has the reader.