In my writer’s group I offered for critique a short piece I had recently written about my dad. It’s a true story from many years ago, but one with unbelievable events involving my father somehow managing to reach out from the grave to give me money when my husband and I really needed the help. While Dad didn’t literally send a hand out from the gravesite, he did, I believe, send a handout from the grave in the form of a CD he opened for me showing up miraculously years after he had died, despite the fact there had been no record of the account previously.
As I said the story is true. The money showed up under very mysterious and timely circumstances. I wrote the essay with warmth and a poignant and humorous tone. I really loved the ways the piece turned out (because as all you writers know, these things we write often have a mind of their own in terms of the way they form) and maybe even more I loved the memory associated with it. Members of my writers group had almost universal glowing and positive reactions similar to these:
“I love your dad.”
“This is wonderful.”
“I feel like I know your dad.”
“You were so blessed to have him.”
And, then there was this one.
“I’m sorry. I know I’m a cynic but this story is just too too perfect. It’s hokey. You were in trouble, Grandpop came back to save you just as he always did. You needed money, and oh lucky you, you got money. Ugh.”
The critic, a very nice man and good writer, didn’t intend to hurt my feelings. He was offering honest critique as we are supposed to do in order to support each other to create better work. And, my feelings weren’t at all hurt. I just didn’t quite know how to respond. Yes, it’s a lovely story. Yes, it all happened almost exactly as I recounted it. Yes, it is very mysterious and unexplainable, and yes, my dad was always there for me, even, as it turned out, seven years after his death. The story may have been too too perfect. But it was true.
Just as my memoir, Tales From The Family Crypt is about family members who may be too awful to be true but are, this story about my dad is the exact opposite. The critic suggested it would be a better story if I made it a little less pristine in its goodness, in its somewhat miraculous aura. If I toned down the facts to suit what real life is like, which is to say, not often perfect and beautiful and poignant and lovely and true simultaneously.
But in that moment in time when the CD showed up, in that instance real life was all of those things. Too good to be true? Yes. But it was.
So, what do you think, writers? Do you shy away from such stories? Is grit always better fodder than grace?