It’s a bad day in literature when nothing happens.

Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler remain as two of literature's most famous sweethearts.
Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler remain as two of literature’s most famous sweethearts.

WHAT’S GOING ON? I asked him.

Nothing, he said.

How sad, I thought.

What did you do today? I asked him.

Nothing, he said.

How sad, I thought.

Then another thought struck me.

In life, nothing happening is not a bad thing.

In novels, at least for me, nothing happening is a death knell.

Rhett Butler left Scarlett in Gone With the Wind.

And I couldn’t believe it when he walked out the door.

Atticus Finch lost his court case in To Kill a Mockingbird.

And I couldn’t believe that good had not triumphed over evil.

The whale whipped Ahab in Moby Dick.

And I saw a man’s obsession kill him before the whale.

The world came to an end in On the Beach.

And I wondered if it could really happen that way.

A girl lost her innocence, her home, and her life in The Diary of Anne Frank.

And life was empty because she was gone.

Soldiers died for a cause they didn’t understand in All Quiet on the Western Front.

And still I am haunted by the mother who sat up all night to look upon the face of her sleeping son, know she might never see him again because, come morning, he would march off to war.

A boy had to kill his dog in

I hurt for days.

That’s life, to be sure.

That was also fiction.

And every moment was gripping.

The stories stunned me.

They frightened me.

They enthralled me.

They made me cry.

But something happened on every page.

And that’s why the books became classics.

Day to day living is different.

I don’t want my wife to leave me the way Rhett left Scarlett.

I don’t want to go to court, much less lose, the way Atticus did.

I won’t want to get whipped by a catfish and certainly not a whale. I’m not obsessed the way Ahab was.

I don’t want the world to end.

I’ve lost my innocence, but I am clinging to my life and home.

I’ve seen war and come home again.

I’ve had to put a dog or two to sleep, but I’ve never had to shoot one.

On the whole, I like nothing.

Don’t want to read about it.

But I like it when nothing happens in my life.

I had been wrong when I spoke to my friend.

Nothing is not sad.

Having nothing happen is the best way to spend another day.

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  • I’m not sure GWTW was ever a love story. I had the gut feeling when Rhett left, Nooooo! But I think it was more that Scarlett seemed to have survived so much that she should at least get some happiness – but the relationship was never developed. Her obsession with Wilkes – and Melanie’s death – just made it a bigger tragedy. Like her mother’s.

    I remember Old Yeller – and me looking up rabies to see if there was anything else that could have been done, and there wasn’t. Our ancestors lived in a much scarier world, but then I’ve been ill for twenty-seven years, and medical ‘science’ is still ignoring us. So, maybe not so much has changed.

    In a way, my novel is a way to ask What on Earth has to happen? for my unlikely characters to get together. Because if I write a story, I’m going to get a happy ending. Eventually. NOT like those tragedies – and certainly NOT like boring every day life.

    I didn’t like those unhappy endings. They were the result of a lot of bad choices or a lot of bad luck.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Thank the Good Lord for writers like you, Alicia. We need some happy endings in our lives. There are so few of them.

      • If writers keep telling people the world is doomed, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t try very hard for happiness.

        A story is a good way to run through an alternate life. We note the decisions that led to bad outcomes, and tell ourselves we wouldn’t do that.

        If the writer is skillful, the story is ‘true’ in the way the reader needs: those consequences will follow that behavior. We need good models as well as to have the bad ones pointed out.

        I think that’s part of the allure of writers such as John D. MacDonald – Travis McGee is someone the men wish to emulate (well, maybe not at the same risk levels), and the women to run into and fall in love with (but they wouldn’t lose him). Which is genius.

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