Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Aim of Every Artist: Meg Moseley's novel, "When Sparrows Fall"

"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life."      William Faulkner

Every new generation experiences life uniquely, rising to meet new challenges in a new ways. Though the basic responses are not generally unique, each generation strives to make their efforts uniquely their own. In an attempt to solve the host of problems created by government schooling and while achieving many good ends at the same time, the '70s and '80s birthed the homeschooling movement. It is an excellent option, though public schooling was once what many believed to be an excellent option which solved a different set of problems for them in their day. How each generation or group of people solves their problems creates their history, yet because we are imperfect human beings, new problems always arise with those new solutions. We demonstrate our true character as we acknowledge, take responsibility for, and confront what we've created. To avoid our responsibility, sometimes we even go back to resurrect or reinvent some old solution that worked for a previous generation, losing sight of our own specific purposes.
Meg Moseley, an experienced homeschooler, sought what Faulkner says every artist aims to do: to capture a moment in time, not only to preserve it for years to come, but she also introduces the daily life of a homeschooler to those who live differently. As Faulkner suggests, a stranger can look at “When Sparrows Fall” and gain a realistic and entertaining glimpse into the life of the protagonist, but I believe that homeschoolers will also benefit in a host of ways.

The book prompts a “reality check.” The same fresh perspective of a character outside of homeschooling not only introduces the outsider to this often cloistered world, it also throws sparks of realization about what others actually see when looking in from the outside. In this sense, the book becomes a mirror in which homeschoolers can see themselves.

Meg paints a very real picture of the world with which homeschoolers will identify. We tend to love to hear someone else talk about memories of a fond, familiar place that we know, and “When Sparrows Fall” was full of that for me -- references that all flowed together so naturally throughout the story. (I'm surprised there was no specific mention of a Bosch mixer, one of my similar humorous “criticisms” of the book's “omissions” because it includes so many other references so well.) I recognize myself in the daily life of the characters, in their thoughts about life, and in their high aspirations of caring for and serving one another. And they are likable characters regardless of your frame of reference.

As for the plot, some things I anticipated, but several other twists near the end of the book caught me completely off guard. I wish that I could elaborate, but I don't want to spoil one bit of the story. You'll have to buy the book and discover those page turners for yourself! With only a third of the book left to go, I could not put it down, deciding to finish it.

For those homeschoolers who wish to see only the pleasant aspects of life, I'm sure they will offer criticism of the story's inclusion of some problematic aspects of living in more extreme and elitist homeschooling groups. Though the story includes several characters that both demonstrate and declare that the extremes do not typify all, I can just imagine that those who peddle homeschooling as a fool proof way of perfection which delivers a problem-free life will cry “Strawman!” at the top of their internet lungs. But the wise know that life and even our solutions to life's challenges come with problems of their own.

Faulkner said that a writer is “congenitally unable to tell the truth” which is why he chose to write fiction. His own characters are fictional, yet his novel, “Absalom, Absalom!,” is touted to be the best of Southern Novels, believed to mirror the rise and fall of the South to that date. He highlighted the racial, social, and class struggles of his day, as well as their consequences. It reminds me of a quote that Alan Moore wrote in the film “V for Vendetta”: “Artists use lies to tell the truth, but politicians use them to cover it up.” Meg creates a fictional story that tells the truth about what many homeschoolers have lived and witnessed themselves, and I believe that many will identify (whether they like the book or not). Her fiction pulls away the curtains that many “homeschooling politicians” use to cover unpleasant truths. I pray that “When Sparrows Fall” will open many opportunities for healing for readers who suffer with similar, hidden, and buried wounds.

And everyone loves a happy ending (but I don't think that counts as too much of a spoiler)!

Pre-order the book through,
or wait to get your copy at a major bookseller on May 3rd!

Visit Meg at 

Other quotes from William Faulkner:

"The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, 
the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

". . .[H]earing the watch. It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire;” it's rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father's. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it."     
from Absalom, Absalom!