Telling Stories

In a recent Fresh Air interview, David Mitchell talked about his craft. “I think it's through stories that we perceive the world. It’s through stories that we communicate with one another." You don’t have to look far for examples. People have stories about politics and religion, and perceive the world accordingly. They have stories about race and gender and love. They have stories about themselves, about who they are or who they’re supposed to be.

It brings to mind the opening line of The White Album: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” In her celebrated essay, Joan Didion considers the narrative threads of her own life and what happened when they unraveled. She describes her nervous breakdown as the result of mislaying her script. “We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

It’s put a little less clinically by the midwife in David Mitchell’s most recent novel, The Thousands Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. “The belly craves food. The tongue craves water. The heart craves love. The mind craves stories.”