If I Wrote a Novel

If I wrote a novel, (it would be a miracle because (1) I have a short attention span, so I cannot imagine ever finishing a long piece of work, and (2) I’m terrible at dialogue. I hate to say it, but I’m just not weird enough to be a novelist. Good story writers are truly weird, and I am honestly jealous of them. But, I should blog, so: should I ever find myself in the luxurious state of “having time,”) I might organize my novel something along the lines of this.

Chapter 1: I’d take a cue from Charlotte Brontë and begin with my main character’s younger self. She would be precocious, wild, and weird. Her imagination would be puzzling at times. She’s a little suspicious. She has a conspiracy theory that, kind of like the people who live in the garage opener, there are people with video cameras outside all the windows, and that’s how videos in the world are made. Once they get an interesting story, they make it into a movie to sell. This is why she hates going to the bathroom at night because the small window has no shade.

Throughout the novel, I’d try to weave in some over-arching themes of Mennonite culture. I want the novel to be very meta, very self-aware. So I’d weave in genealogies, responsibility to future generations, connection to the land, displacement, the internalized stereotype of the Dumb Dutchman, the German work ethic, persecution, nonresistance, community and discord, engagement and separation.

Chapters 2-3: I have always said that children’s rights will be the next “political freedom” movement (since we’ve already “freed” everyone else), and we really seeing a push toward that in current politics. Since the politics of children is a big deal right now (at least in English classrooms at very liberal universities), and I would love to build relevance for Anabaptist practice in modern culture, I would demonstrate how our Mennonite children are already acting within a political identity, because, in a sense, Anabaptism IS a political identity. (Has anyone ever read The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder? I haven’t. Should I?) Anyway, I would show the importance of children’s integration into most aspects of church life. They are rarely left out or set aside. Very simply: babies and kids belong in church. (That is why it is unthinkable to leave babies at home when there is, say, a choral concert.) I see this as very different from Middle class America where children are “put away” into daycares, school programs, and after-school sports. I would emphasize over and over again the “togetherness” of families whose children who grow up Mennonite. Breakfast, lunch, dinner: togetherness, every day, three times a day. Normalcy.

In Chapter 4, the main character gets environmentally conscious. This chapter also begins the character’s world travels. First, she goes on a school trip to Costa Rica. Besides zip-lining through the jungle and soaking in natural hot springs, she goes to the jungle for several days and meets a missionary doctor who’s trying to teach the indigenous people better farming techniques. The doctor might even have a biodigester under her pig pen, catching poop, turning it into methane gas, and pumping it up to the thatched roof house for cooking. In the jungle, the main character might also get bitten by the missionary doctor’s pet monkey. Something crazy. You know. Not true to life.

Next, the character travels to Luxembourg and Germany. In a Luxembourg hotel, she’s intrigued with the way the lights automatically turn off (to save electricity) when she shuts her hotel room door. Also, in Germany, she’s struck with the aesthetics of the nearly universal ceramic tile roofs. Green roof regulations from 100 years ago.

But just when everyone thinks the main character is me, I’d throw everyone off with an obvious clue: a short-lived romance with a Turkish boyfriend.

Turkish Boyfriend

Chapter 5: The Jane Austen Dance and Mennonite Mating Rituals: In which I write a scathing satire of every Mennonite girl’s reality: the Jane Austen complex at a volleyball game. The couple meet at a fancy ball (or a volleyball game). The Turk’s eligible friend invites him to the dance (or tournament), and to everyone’s surprise, the dashing young Turk does not play (er, dance). He prefers to… do whatever it is that Turks do, while the main character dances (plays some really great volleyball), all the while trying to ignore her loud family who is match-making (or raiding the pizza table). The Turk and the character have words (at the snack table), and later (behind the bleachers), the main character and her friends discuss the eligibility of the Turk, the Turk’s friend, and whether if either of them have a “quizzical brow.” At this point, the Turk’s friend returns and asks the main character’s friend for a dance (really, another game) and the Turk is left to himself. The main character tries to convince him to play, to no avail. Finally, he joins in the last game. Suddenly, he and she are the only ones in the room (or on the court). No one present can miss the ELECTRICITY of the high fives, and the SINCERITY of the passing on of the score, and the perfect timing of a couple’s dance… the bump, the set, and spike. The dance ends, applause erupts (everyone gives high fives. The main character even gives a high five to twelve year-old Rudolph, whose pimple-pocked body smells like cheetos, so that she can honorably exchange fives with the Turk.)
Pride and Prejudice 2    Pride and Prejudice 3

Chapter 6: In which the Turk comes calling. Somehow he gets the main character’s dance card. (I think, what normally happens, is that after the game, everyone goes out for coffee, but the Turk is “new” and “doesn’t know where the coffee shop is” so he gets the main character’s number “just in case” he can’t find the coffee shop.) However, after the fancy ball (read: volleyball game after a well-attended wedding), the romance comes to a screeching halt. At the coffee shop, the Turk comes out:

“I’m Baptist.”

The main character manages to retain her composure. Later, she facebook friends him just to be nice. At least the volleyball was good.

Chapter 7: In this chapter, I would talk about the character’s social experience at public colleges and universities. I would demonstrate one of the biggest culture shocks for the Mennonite young woman: strong language. I would probably include overheard dialogue in which literally every other word is the F-word. I would write about the character’s reaction the first time she saw the “bruhs” from the hood, walking down the sidewalk, rapping and talking to themselves. Absolutely DYING freshman year, sitting through a sex-ed class in college orientation where the teacher handed out papers of “all the different kinds of sex” and had volunteers organize themselves in line, holding the papers, from “most likely to get an STD” to “least likely to get an STD.” I’d write the mortification, the awkwardness, and the young gentleman who sat beside the character and muttered under his breath: “Like this will ever be a problem for me.” Bless you, young man.

Chapter 8: A chapter of questions and answers, in which the main character is not Jewish, Mormon, or Amish, black is just a personal preference, coffee is fine, but no to the drinking, and “I don’t eat fish” means “I don’t like it,” you dummies, not that I’m not allowed to eat it. (Honestly!) Of course the answer is Jesus. But sometimes they can’t see past my culture. (Or they choose not to.)

This is a good start for now. But I still have no plot. And I need some more chapters because I don’t want it to be a coming-of-age novel! Because I hate coming-of-age novels.

6 thoughts on “If I Wrote a Novel”

  1. esther. you know i HAVE to comment on this. 1. yes. i can see why you would never finish a novel. novel’s need more than 7 chapters 2. idk. i sure sounds like an autobiography to me. complete w/ a confession of a hidden love interest (hahahahah) so… in light of that.. i would suggest living a bit longer.. so you have more to write than a coming of age story. tho i do think you have a good start to a mennonite ‘teeny bopper’ book. 3. and i love how accurate you are in your mennonite synapses. I think that college is a great place to learn to see your own culture for the weirdness it is and still claim it as your own. and 4. you know. i would read anything you write. but this book. i would recommend to others. WRITE IT! 😀
    p.s. even if i am the only person to comment on this post. i know everyone agrees w/ me. this is hilarious. 🙂

  2. Without a doubt one of the best “novels” I’ve read in a while 🙂 And the dialogue…I’m sure you could come up with some witty humored conversation!! (unless it’s with the Turk boy because you know how it is….flirting is kind of frowned upon) 😀

  3. I have three things to say:
    1. I laughed very hard at this post (in a good way)
    2. I think you should take chapter 5 and make it a short story. Seriously.
    3. I don’t recall ever finding the strong language at college to be a culture shock, and I can’t figure out why. Maybe because it came on gradually, as I was exposed to more language the longer I was in college and the more friends I made.
    Or maybe it’s creeping into our movies so much that I got desensitized by that.
    In any case, it is true that there is a whole lot of bad language on campuses, to the point that I often don’t even notice it anymore, which is somewhat scary.

  4. I know this is old, but I have a hard time keeping up. It just struck me as I read this post that we can forget the Great American Novel (The Adventures of Gatsbyberry Finn, or On the Road With the Whale), the read question is who gets to write The Great Mennonite Novel.

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