The world is a confusing place. I am in Ireland for two weeks with the writing program that I direct, and here the recent referendum on same-sex marriage is still very much on people’s minds. In 2015, Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. The vote, in the end, was not close: 62% voted Yes, with nearly every part of the country voting to support the referendum. Roscommon-South Leitrim, a rural county toward the north of the Republic, voted No by a slim margin. Everywhere else, most voters pulled the lever to approve the constitutional change. In parts of Dublin, the vote to approve same-sex marriage was almost three-to-one.
Caro’s writing is linked to a deep moral obligation to get the story right, not just as an unassailable set of facts, but as something more democratic, as strange as that might be to say about a set of giant books about the elites of the country. His books are ultimately about power. But as Maggie Nelson said during a recent talk at the AWP writing conference, “Every book invokes its own ghost,” and around a book about power lingers the ghosts of the powerless. Caro knows this. He says, “Somewhere in The Power Broker I write that regard for power means disregard for those without power. I mean, we’re really talking about justice and injustice.”
How much should we explain to the reader? This is a question that comes up a lot. In fact, it comes up every single time we write. Writing is a series of decisions of what to explain to the reader, what not to, what leaps and associations we believe the reader can take, should take, or might not be able to take (but do they need to?). It happens, on some level, with every word. Each word in our work is a kind of bet—which readers will recognize what we are trying to do, and which will not? And when that word combines with the next, and spreads its reach into reference or metaphor or anything beyond the basic and denotative, we make an even bigger bet.
By now, I have been a teacher of creative writing much longer than I was a pool lifeguard. I have come to believe that one of the main jobs of literature is to see the present moment—whatever that moment may be, in the context of the text—with focus and clarity. Good writing doesn’t constantly look back or look ahead. Each word is a world, and a good writer puts that world in front of you when you read.
The year 2015 marks a half-century of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. It is a complicated relationship, to say the least. On the one hand, ties between these two countries are incredibly strong; as a recent article in Ha’aretz details, Germany has made key contributions to Israel’s economy, security, and diplomacy nearly since the founding of the Israeli state in 1948. And present day relations have little of the hand-wringing and public back-and-forth that marks, say, Israeli comments about Jewish life in France, or the regular Israel-bashing that is a feature of discourse in many European countries. On the other hand, it’s Israel and Germany. There will always be a lot to say.