There’s a trick the light plays on clear days when the angle of the earth is at just the right kissing point and the sun burns forth in splendor.
I don’t know what causes it—I’ll pin it on God—but it’s a captivating time of day. Painters and photographers yearn for it. Me, too. As long as I’m not driving when it happens, that instant of blinding light has me in its thrall.
I call it “the blast of light,” and when I see it, I think of the paintings of JMW Turner or Claude Monet, of Joachín Sorolla or Edward Hopper. Their paintings live on in my mind in part because of their love affair with the light. In a sense, that’s what painting and photography are all about—capturing light on objects.
Fiction too, is concerned with light, something tells me, although stories are prone to exaggerate it. I’m reminded of Franz Kafka’s “I exaggerate to make everything clear”—or did he say “everything is exaggeration, the only truth is longing”? Whatever, great novels for me arrive at the same end, a magnificent shining, which is to say, a magnificent longing.
It occurred to me this evening as the sun transformed our gutter into a shock of beauty, that there are moments in novels like the blast of light in nature. Flashpoints in a character’s understanding. Points when the worm turns and the glorious light of sudden knowledge bathes the character. Or at least a light bulb goes on down the hall. I’m thinking of the main character’s epiphanic vision. It is fleeting but defies time and space. Who can take its measure? Words try, they circle around the scene in an attempt to create emotion and understanding, but we readers only remember the explosion inside the character’s mind. Her sudden awareness sticks to us like glue.
In fiction, the blast of light sallies forth at about the same time as it does in nature—an hour or so before sunset which is at about the 80- to 90% point in the book when we think we know who done it, or when the screw turns, or disparate storylines touch and the main character realizes something fierce. The moment of surprise. It’s fleeting but we remember its kick for a long time.
Unlike nature’s blast of light, the pivot point in a plot must be carefully planned by a build that is solid, perhaps with hints throughout the story. Maybe the author architects the character’s milestone with storylines that at first that seem miles apart but slowly come together. Or maybe the author creates an arc of terror, a string of scary scenes increasing in weight and intensity, so that when the magic moment takes place, the story is on steady ground even if the reader’s mind is in the clouds as she feels the blast of light with the character. And when the reader returns to earth, she remembers clues, hints, places in the book that didn’t make sense at the time she read them. Like, “Oh, yeah, I remember, now, the foreshadowing was brilliant.” Or, “So that was the reason the character did such and such or said what he did.”
I need that blast of light in a book, I’ll not be cheated from it. Maybe I won’t remember its detail but I know when a story has it and where it occurred and why. Sadly, the weight of blasting light exceeds my puny attempts to explain it. It’s orgasmic. It defies time, like the light illuminating the world, or maybe just flashing one of its manic grins onto my window pane. And for the briefest of seconds, the writing carries me away, like when I bite into a delicious piece of chocolate and I live in the rarefied air of redemption.
Photo: Candles in Procession Somewhere in Sicily. Credit: Luce_Chiara2 (Flickr), Creative Commons.