I have always loved America. The United States of America, that is. From the moment Huck Finn sailed down the Mississippi with the runaway slave, Jim, I was sold. I loved the English classics, but for me American novelists like Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald drove the story forward. Their novels – the one about innocence, the other about the loss if it – have us question our humanity, and what it means.
These days, not just because of the pandemic, we are being put to the test again. In Twain’s The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn we confront the irrationality of racism through the eyes of the naïve but loving Huck. Forty-one years later, in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald explores the excesses of what to him was an openly brazen capitalist society.
At university my literature teacher hated the American novelist Joseph Heller. He told us that Catch 22 was a rubbish novel, as he gazed out the window, presumably dreaming of a tenured position at Oxford. But we students loved it. When I skim through its pages now, I see that it’s not great literature, but it is memorable and clever writing that propelled a generation to oppose America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. (And Australia’s too.)
These days, the battle for our hearts and minds rages still. But to any artist seeking to find that crack of light that lies within the darkness, its time to write, read a lot, sing out loud and paint those pictures … and let the mighty river of creativity roll on. Art will always help us find our way home again.