The realities of fiction: a book about writing

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After finishing The Prodigal Women, I was thirsty for anything else Nancy Hale had written and opted to dip into her lectures on writing. Unfortunately, this collection of her thoughts from 1960 seems extremely dated. Not only does she reference walking on the moon as a distant possibility, but her attitude toward defining the novel vs. the short story seems rigid when looking back over 50 years. Still, the book is not completely without merits.

When writing, she emphasizes that novelists express the part of themselves that they are unaware of—writing as discovery/therapy. The writer trusts her imagination most of all, and makes society into a character. Hale claims that the only unique things are those that exist in the real world, that imagination creates things that are like something else. The pieces she claims as most important: beginning, the balance of forces or tension, writing in SCENES as much as possible, motivations for action, and skillful unnoticeable transitions.

I never need to read A Passage to India after consuming this book since Hale takes every available opportunity to praise and quote it.

Ultimate verdict- skip this book.

The Prodigal Women

I got swept up in the fast-moving currents of Nancy Hale’s dramatic masterpiece from 1942, a best-seller in its day that has now become moldering. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for stories with strong women who prefer solitude to anything else.

The story begins with a young Leda March looking back at her home and relishing the weekend’s release from school so that she can be alone. She comes from a poor branch of the aristocratic Marches of Boston and is an only child who finds comfort in the rollicking good time offered by her new friend Betsy Jekyll. The next 500+ pages follow the girls as they grow up and try on various identities—wealthy and beautiful wife (Leda) who bores of her marriage and chucks it all to become a poet, and Betsy’s bohemian spirit leads her to flapperism in NYC which she must renounce when she ends up with a wife-beating husband who loves to imagine all the various men she’s been with (so as to enrage himself). Leda falls in love with Betsy’s sister Maise’s husband, the artist Lambert Rudd. Maise herself gets sick in South America due to a botched abortion and becomes an invalid until she has her own child, and then loses her mind. It’s a real page-turner, delicious way to sink into the hours of the afternoon.