Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog


with 5 comments

Just before Thanksgiving last year, I went into a supermarket–well, what passes for a supermarket out here–looking for a turkey breast.  This was not turkey for Thanksgiving itself.  For that,  I get a whole turkey.  I think I had somebody coming for dinner, or something.  Whatever the reason, I wanted a turkey breast.

I couldn’t find one in the fresh meat section.  I went over to the frozen stuff and found a big pile of the things in that open, deep bin at the bottom.  I looked around among them, finally found one big enough to suit me, and grapped it by the looped handle of its mesh packaging.  

It was way down under a whole bunch of these things, and it was hard to get it to come out.  So I pulled, really hard.

And it came.

It brought five or so more of the things up with it.   They bounced out of the freezer case and onto the floor, except for one of them, which hit me square on the top of my left foot.

You ever get hit by a seven pound turkey breast on top of your foot?  It breaks about a million tiny bones, and there’s nothing the doctor can do about it.  You swell up.   You take a lot of ibuprofen.

But what really struck me about that incident was this:  it was exactly the kind of thing that occurs on some badly written sitcom, and when you watch it you roll your eyes and wonder how anybody could expect you to believe something like that.

I was reminded of that incident yesterday, which went like this:

I had a fairly important appointment at one fifteen, for which  I had to do a great deal of preparation.  Things had to be photocopied.  Other things had to be gathered together and put in order if I wasn’t going to sound like a complete idiot.

I really should have started prepping for this thing at least a week in advance, but of course I’d left it all to the last minute.  So, just to make sure I didn’t screw it all up, I got myself up at four thirty in the morning, had tea, got showered and dressed, got ino my car ad headed out

I got to the place I knew I could make copies just as the doors opened, ran around organizing all my stuff and getting the right number of copies of each, found a computer I could use and printed some stuff off that that also had to be copied, organized all my material, looked at the clock and realized it was almost one already.

So I jumped up and ran, jumped in the car, did too much in the way of miles per hour, found a parking space too far away from the door to be comfortable, locked up, ran some more, reached the door, and found it locked. 

Panicked beyond belief, I got out my phone and called the person I was supposed to meet…and was greeted with complete  bemusement.

Our appointment is for next week.

So, okay, you know.   On one level, this is just funny.  But it did occur to me that under no circumstances would I use either of these incidents in a novel.  I wouldn’t, because they just don’t sound “real” to me. 

I don’t know how this is possible, since both these incidents are thoroughly real.   They happened to me. And yet, somehow, they don’t feel entirely real even when I talk about them, and I know without even having to check that they would sound compltely fake in fiction.

I read something once that said that fiction has to be plausible, where life needs only to be possible. 

I suppose that would work well enough in this case, but I  still find the whole thing a little unsettling.

It’s not just that fiction, if it is to be worthwhile at all, should reflect the way we live now, and what we are–and please,  by that I don’t mean that you can’t have historical novels or fantasy ones.

It’s that I keep rememberingn that line from Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest:  it’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen.

It’s that I  keep remember another of Kesey’s lines, from his second novel, Sometimes A Great Notion.

Some things aren’t the truth even if they did happen.

Written by janeh

September 2nd, 2009 at 6:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Funny'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Funny'.

  1. I don’t really understand the ‘it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen’ and ‘some things aren’t the truth even if they did happen” types of statements. I think I’m just too literal-minded. I can sort of see that a fictional representation of something can be not true and yet illuminate a truth about human nature, but that’s not the same as being the truth.

    Some things that happen in real life are too improbable to make good fiction, but breaking bones in the feet and toes sadly isn’t improbably at all – I did it myself slipping on a wet bathroom floor and smashing my toes against the tub. There were no poultry involved, though!


    2 Sep 09 at 7:12 am

  2. Not only is the incident not-quite-believable, Jane, but you could legitimately tell people the cause of the broken foot was “Poultry in motion.”

    Yeah, see how that sells!

    Everybody thinks that such things wouldn’t happen to them because they’re more graceful, or more careful or that unplanned crap doesn’t fall into their lives, oh no! Until it does, and then they try to wipe it from their reality, because they feel it reflects badly on their grace, planning or care. Then they don’t want to believe it in fiction, because “stuff like that doesn’t happen in real life.”

    Perhaps it’s just that fiction has to feel true, and reality is free to confront you with “there it is, refute that!” And this is true of historical and fantasy fiction as well. If the situations and characters don’t feel true in their reactions, you end up with a bad taste.


    2 Sep 09 at 2:29 pm

  3. I would have no trouble with those incidents in a story – similar things have happened to me.

    But I’d have a problem if the incidents were central to the plot. For example, if the broken foot led to meeting a handsome man and falling in love.


    2 Sep 09 at 3:34 pm

  4. I am reminded of the old “THIRTYsomething” ad: “Like life, but with better writers.” Sometimes in life we cannot see plan or purpose, but I won’t accept it in fiction: after all, I already have reality.

    I will, however, accept some pretty strange events–so long as they’re the premise or start of the story. Finding one’s identical twin on the street can be a starting point–and has been, more than once. Finding out, half way through the story that our protagonist is Fearless Leader’s double doesn’t work so well.

    Jimmy Stewart laid up with a broken leg looking at his neighbors is a fine start for REAR WINDOW. Jimmy Stewart investigating something else, getting a leg broken in some way unrelated to the main plot and having to take a few weeks off before resuming the plot is “realistic” enough, but unacceptable. Fiction has time constraints, and has to get to the point. Real life has all the time there is, and is free.


    2 Sep 09 at 4:14 pm

  5. I think the roots of this are in what we psychologists call the fundamental attribution error. When A sees B do something, A attributes it to B’s fundamental personality. In contrast, when A does the same thing, A attributes it to the exigencies of the situation. Basically, we rationalize away our own stupidities or whatever because of the situation, while assuming that everyone else acted that way because that’s the way they are.

    So if someone in a novel runs around like crazy to get ready for a meeting that is really a week later, for the novel to make sense to the reader, that has to indicate something fundamental about the character–you’re going to set them up to be ditsy for some reason, or you’re foreshadowing the dementia diagnosis in a later chapter, or something.

    Whereas in real life, you were stressed out about other things, or really busy, or whatever…it doesn’t say anything fundamental about YOU.


    2 Sep 09 at 10:11 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 800 access attempts in the last 7 days.