In 1 Kings 4:16-28, we read an interesting story about Solomon’s wisdom. Two prostitutes, both mothers, come to him to settle a dispute. Both say the baby between them is theirs, that one baby died and the mother stole this one. Solomon asks for a sword, says he’ll simply divide the baby in two (eek!). In the very next moment, the real mother shows herself by offering to give the baby to the mother who stole her baby.
As I read that, I wondered and pondered and ruminated. What if we could write in a like manner? What if our prose, so infused with simplicity and wisdom, revealed what was inside people?
Though it’s hard to express exactly what I mean, I was privileged to experience this kind of prose when I picked up two of Alexander McCall Smith’s books: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Tears of a Giraffe. What lovely books! Consider this piece from the latter title:
“It was all part of this terrible attack on people by those who had nothing better to do than to give advice on all sorts of subjects. These people, who wrote in newspapers and talked on the radio, were full of good ideas as to how to make people better. They poked their noses into other people’s affairs, telling them to do this and that. They looked at what you were eating and told you it was bad for you; then they looked at the way you raised your children and said that was bad too. And to make matters worse, they often said that if you did not heed their warnings, you would die. In this way they made everybody so frightened of them that they felt they had to accept the advice.” (p. 121).
I stopped after I read this and wondered. Do we as writers contribute to this alarmist buzz? Do we point fingers at people eating, living, parenting incorrectly–frightening them into compliance to our set of standards? McCall Smith’s prose opened this up for me. He writes in such a way as to invite readers to consider their lives. This paragraph illuminates. It gives me an “aha” moment as a reader. It reveals what’s inside my heart:
Oh, so maybe I don’t need to listen to all the naysayers! Maybe it’s okay to be me, to eat what I feel is right, to parent the way I feel I need to parent. Maybe freedom awaits me if I can let go of other people’s expectations.
As someone who is currently struggling with what could only be called a midlife crisis, this paragraph reminded me how ridiculous it is to take in everything the media says, to believe their ideals. No, I do not parent perfectly. When I walk down the street, my hips are not airbrushed away. Yes, I have smile lines. And all of that is okay! Because I’m me, and you’re you, and we’re all gloriously different. But our society’s messages are often in conflict with who we really are. In the media’s eyes, we’re not enough.
Bad prose is propaganda–it lies to us, makes us question our worth, tells us we’ll be better off if we buy more things. But good prose ushers in freedom. It raises questions. It causes us to think, to consider, to mull over. It cuts through the thick skin of our protective shell, through sinew, to our hearts, cuts us right down the middle, lays us bare.
Solomon had it right. I long for the day when the publishing industry sees things in a similar manner. May we write such arresting, beautiful, simple prose that our words (by God’s grace) cuts through to the hearts of those who read.