“He was always chasing the next draft of himself.”
American critic Dwight Garner, in the New York Times Book Review on February 16 of this year, was describing the childhood of Henry James.
An expandable list comes to mind, some of our memorable figures moving toward the next draft of themselves: Anne Shirley, Holden Caulfield, Jo March, Jody Baxter, Arnold Spirit, Jr., Gilly Hopkins, M.C. Higgins, Jane Yolen’s Hannah/Chaya, Will Grayson and Will Grayson, Billie Jo Kelby, Ramona Quimby, the Gaither sisters, Hugo Cabret, Stanley Yelnats, the Logan family of Mississippi, Winnie Foster, Walter Dean Myers’ Steve Harmon, Terry Pratchett’s Mau and Daphne and their Nation. Harry, Hermione, Ron.
One of our truisms is that the characters who transport us in their stories are actually showing us — seldom without pain — about revising and becoming. We’ve all felt it happen.
After the last page, our selves have enlarged, leading us often subtly, silently, into our own next draft.
Generation after generation, many of our young, in fiction and in the house just down the road, must revise themselves by fleeing chaos, violence, or neglect wrought by callous or confused adults. Others seek change and release from what seems an abyss of boredom. And some of us lucky ones try on differences just because we can.
Right now, December 2016, in our own USA, many of our neighbors and students fear deportation, a cruel next draft in a world they never made. As the new administration struts toward Washington, we’re wary of the convulsive upending, we’re apprehensive about the precipitous swerves and the jaw-dropping, impetuous tweets, and some of us place bets. Here is Henry James’ declaration from about a hundred years ago: “I hate American simplicity. I glory in the piling up of complications of every sort.” Come on back, Henry. We have drafts galore for you, we’ll help you catch up on your reading, and we’ve got real life complications that will blow your spats off.