BY JON WESICK
Copyright is held by the author.
WHAT WAS the cyclops’ name in The Odyssey? I pulled out my dog-eared paperback of Homer to find the answer but all its pages were blank. Odd! I checked Shakespeare’s complete works and found the same thing. I rifled the dusty, pressboard bookshelves that sagged under the weight of my fiction collection. The words had walked off the job in Chekhov, Hemingway, Richard Yates, Raymond Carver, and dozens of others. After dropping the blank volumes on the carpet, I checked the rest. Dictionaries and textbooks were untouched as were Borges and Italo Calvino. Only one book on quantum mechanics remained on my Kindle.
Puzzled by this mystery, I drove to the library and found a picket line blocking the entrance. Dressed in toga and crown, Oedipus shook his fist at the cowering librarians and shouted, “Does my love life amuse you, perverts?” Hester Prynne carried a placard with a struck-through A in a red circle. James Bond chanted, “I hate martinis!”
“What’s this all about?” I asked Scout Finch.
“Fiction readers get their rocks off by watching us suffer. We’ve had enough and demand sick leave, a $15 minimum wage, and that authors follow OSHA workplace safety rules.”
I sat on the steps in the shade of a stone lion to contemplate what she’d said. Why did readers enjoy the suffering of others? Must fiction rely on thwarting characters’ wants? How could one write a literature of love, mutual respect, and solidarity instead? What if Juno’s parents had put her on the birth control pill? What if Humber Humbert and Tom Ripley had gotten the therapy they needed? What if Joseph K could afford a better lawyer? Would deciphering an alien language without some rogue general threatening interstellar genocide still interest a reader? Before I had time to answer these questions, Robert McKee led a squad of helmeted, writing students, carrying truncheons and riot shields, into the square.
“This is an illegal assembly,” he shouted through a megaphone. “You have five minutes to disperse.”
The strikers shook their fists and cursed. McKee gave the order and the riot squad attacked in a stunning example of conflict in fiction. A rubber bullet shattered Oedipus’ eyes while readers stayed up past their bedtimes to witness pepper spray disable Hester Prynne and zip ties bind Jay Gatsby’s wrists. Writers clubbed Emma Bovary to her knees, kicked her ribs with steel-toed boots, and tossed her bleeding body between a hardcover’s pages. The scene shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. In their review, they praised the riot as a triumphant return to form.
Jon Wesick is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He’s published hundreds of poems and stories in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, New Verse News, Paterson Literary Review, Pearl, Pirene’s Fountain, Slipstream, Space and Time, and Tales of the Talisman. His most recent books are The Shaman in the Library and The Prague Deception. http://jonwesick.com