fictional empathy

I just finished two remarkable novels. Remarkable because in both, the fictional characters are called upon to find love for each other beyond the instinctive satisfaction of sexual and personal needs. They are invited to understand each other. This movement beyond self-absorption to find love and empathy as part of their  journey is refreshing in a world where our fiction is often preoccupied with darkness and despair.

Peter Harris, a mildly successful gallery owner who may be on the cusp of something greater, is the main character in Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall. He moves in and out of self-awareness as he journeys through his mid-life crisis until an unwise infatuation forces him to contemplate the impacts. His delusions fall away and he begins to discover how what he has done, and even the things he has kept secret, have affected the lives of those around him.

In Daughters-in Law, by Joanna Trollope, Rachel and Antony are the parents of three sons. As we discover more and more about the relationships between them, their children and their daughters-in-law, the eight participants are also called upon to move beyond their limited selves and start to imagine the lives of those around them more fully.

In this deeply satisfying literature of personal engagement, the answers are not simple, the pain is real and the love is complex.