When the writer Junot Diaz came to Fordham University this spring, he wore old jeans and a hoodie and swore more than Junior, the profane sometime narrator of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He was funny, distracted, self-deprecating, self-indulgent, and brilliant. He kept trying to get off the stage, saying he was only going to read a little, only going to take a few questions. But alone at the podium, he acted out short passages of his novel and talked eloquently, without notes, about being a novelist.
And one thing Diaz said in particular struck a chord in me.
“The fact that my novel isn’t autobiographical doesn’t mean it isn’t deeply personal,” he said, answering a question he said he gets a lot, about whether Oscar Wao is based on his own life. “This is the power of art: to take a complete lie – fiction – and produce inside people a complete relationship to it. When a novel works, it creates an emotion of profound connection with the reader. You love it with your whole being. Because these emotions are real, it creates an analogue [within the reader]: the novel must be true.”
This, I think, is at the heart of the impulse to write – and read – a novel. It’s what writers strive to do: immerse the reader in a dream world that seems so real, and rings so true, that it echoes or reflects their own experience; it reveals and illuminates motivation and parses emotion; it expresses the inexpressible. It is as real as life.