It’s a quiet summer day, you are laid back on the lawn, or tucked up in a favorite tree, or, more likely, standing in line somewhere with your eyes glued to your iphone as you wander through the pages of an e-novel, when suddenly you run across the last person you’d expect to see, peering up at you from that other world in your hands. You’ve been but a mere bird, flitting between interesting characters; a moth, attracted to the illuminated scenery; a travel-weary toad, hopping along the heels of the plot, anticipating the next twist in the path. You are nothing important, but you’re there, that too-wise housefly, when suddenly you are smacked off the wall by… you? You wonder if parallel universes exist after all, not just in science fiction, or even reality, but in… fiction? It’s startling, like peering at your reflection in a world that shouldn’t really exist. Or perhaps it’s a memory of a real place and does exist somewhere, or did. Either way, it is a unique habitat, shaped by the singular mind of the author, a person who couldn’t possibly know you. Yet there you are, on page 13, third paragraph from the bottom. At first, you may not have known yourself. Only the name, different from your own, of course, was mentioned in the first chapter or two. Or the descriptions were vague, merely physical. Your twin doesn’t have to be identical. What is most striking is the kinship between souls; the shared personality, motives, aspirations and history. The fact is, the author nailed you! You turn back to the author’s bio, reassure yourself that no, you don’t know them, and they can’t possibly know you, and yet you can’t help wondering if your duplicate, calling out from the work in your hands, has a back story that reads like your personal journal.
I believe more than mere coincidence is involved in these uncanny doppelgangers. I think it takes a truly great author to create an authentic enough character for it to work. Unless you’re a living cliché (yes, we all have our days, but I’m sure there’s more to you than being a perpetual klutz, or too intellectual for the good of your personal life) you just aren’t going to knock heads with the real you in a book all that often. That’s because our passions and our pasts are so unique. It takes true-to-life characters to become real enough to relate to, and it takes an author a heck of a lot of work to accomplish this. What it takes, to have that shiver of recognition of yourself in someone else, something else, even, is a meeting of two like minds–a book you are inherently intrigued by because some part of you knows that place. It’s an eclipse of two worlds. You are there, a rare bloom, flattened to fit and a little creased around the edges, pressed between the pages of a brilliant observer.
I found myself hidden away in a cramped attic, writing rather than living, in The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip. In that lovely, haunted land, my name was Gwyneth Blair, and I was just as apt to keep the peace there by smiling agreeably to those around me, while losing myself to daydreams. Admittedly, Gwyneth is a much wittier conversationalist and perhaps she has a bit more confidence than I– certainly more grace, more height, and far more beauty. Beauty has very little to do with my looks, and yet– she has my wind-knotted, curly hair, light skin, even my “spectacles.” We share muddled, hurried hand writing, devout self criticism, and a stubborn will that overtakes our usual stream of placating words when a threat to our imaginative natures has been perceived. “It’s the way my mind works. I doubt that any chiding or lecturing will change it…” she says in a burst of honesty when another character criticizes her for her strange, privately meandering thoughts. She is so busy writing in her head (and on paper when she can) that many around her feel the need to take the reigns of her life, turning her in one direction or another, drawing her towards their expectations. Yet every now and then, she speaks with devastating clarity about what it is she will or won’t do when it comes to those things she deems sacred; loved ones and writing. It was more than just a skewed glimpse in a moonlit puddle– I found myself smiling at my duplicate, for once content to see my own reflection. There she was, that eternally curious, carefully observant, always distracted girl working the world out through her stories.
So I wonder–has this happened to you? If so, what pages are you pressed between? What genius author thought you into existence and how did you stumble across yourself? Feel free to leave your comments, I’d love to hear about it.
I’ll leave you now with Gwyneth’s words, with the best explanation of what a story, a life lived, truly is:
“‘My dear Miss Blair, what kind of tale are you writing?’
‘The kind that tells you what it is as it goes along.'”
~ Kristina Wojtaszek ~