[Note from Frolic: Wondering how the pandemic will change storytelling? You’re not alone. We’re so excited to have author Madeleine Henry sharing her thoughts on it today. Take it away, Madeleine!]
I have a new reflex.
Every night that my fiancé and I watch Netflix, I wonder at some point, Why aren’t they wearing masks? The question breaks my spell of suspended disbelief. The travel show that was marketing itself as contemporary and relevant is now obviously a period piece. “New” series suddenly look dated, old ones glaringly fictional.
I can have a similar reaction when people touch each other on screen. The amount of casual contact there is astounding. All of the handshakes, kisses on the cheek, and pats on the back can be jarring to witness after months of living without them. Gestures can also seem more romantic than I suspect they were intended. It might only be a brush of the elbows that I’m seeing, but these days, the only elbow I brush up against is my fiancé’s.
This recurring double-take reveals that I’ve internalized a new normal. Wearing a mask and keeping my distance from others are habits now. The absence of them surprises me—which means these routines have gone so deep as to affect my subconscious expectations.
If writing novels has taught me anything, it’s that your subconscious makes its way into your stories. As an obvious example, I set my second novel at Yale, where I went to school, without ever deliberately deciding to put the story there. This leads me to believe that traces of our new pandemic subconscious will make their way into the stories of our future. Writers are probably infusing their works right now with elements of loneliness, confinement, and a heightened intensity to touch. After living through curfews in major cities, the question of whether or not to bulk buy necessities, radically altered weddings and other milestone events, the merger of workplace and home, and strange elbow handshakes—as part of a new relationship with physical contact—writers’ worldviews have changed. The pandemic has shaped us in ways that will emerge in the characters and plots to come.
I wrote my new novel, The Love Proof, before the virus changed our world. By coincidence, it explores some themes I expect to become more popular over the next few years. The Love Proof follows two lonely souls who are only able to find true connection with each other. One of the main characters, Sophie, is a brilliant physicist studying the nature of time. After a sudden and inexplicable loss, she embarks on a journey to prove that those we love are always connected to us. At its core, the book captures the sentiment of E.E. Cummings’ famous line, “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in/ my heart),” and of Rumi’s, “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” Over time, I expect more stories will express this idea of together-when-apart, along with other concerns from this period. Those might include: the burdens of caregiving, the need for space, and infection.
Though this pandemic may change what we create, I don’t think that living through it will affect what we enjoy. Evidence of that is all around us: pieces of our pop culture right now run the gamut. Though Contagion, World War Z, and other spotlights on virulent outbreaks saw a boost at first, people quickly moved on to things less overtly apocalyptic. We devoured Tiger King, In Five Years, Big Summer, and The Crown. My own personal reading list wasn’t affected by the pandemic or by the issues it’s raised for me. I did read Chris Bohjalian’s The Red Lotus—a thriller with a pandemic plot that unfolds in Vietnam—for one of my book clubs this summer, but that has been the exception to the rule.
So, I believe that the change in our stories will not come from a shift in how we consume, but from a difference in what we make. I expect our suite of options will change slowly as the subconscious emerges, and the pandemic will live on thematically.
About the Author:
Madeleine Henry is the author of two novels including The Love Proof and Breathe In, Cash Out. She has appeared on NBC, WABC, The Jenny McCarthy Show, and Inspire Living. She has been featured in the New York Post, Parade, and Observer Media. Previously, she worked at Goldman Sachs and in investment management after graduating from Yale in 2014. She shares more information about her life on Instagram @MadeleineHenryYoga.
The Love Proof by Madeleine Henry, out now!
Sophie Jones is a physics prodigy on track to unlock the secrets of the universe. But when she meets Jake Kristopher during their first week at Yale they instantly feel a deep connection, as if they’ve known each other before. Quickly, they become a couple. Slowly, their love lures Sophie away from school.
When a shocking development forces Sophie into a new reality, she returns to physics to make sense of her world. She grapples with life’s big questions, including how to cope with unexpected change and loss. Inspired by her connection with Jake, Sophie throws herself into her studies, determined to prove that true loves belong together in all realities.
Spanning decades, The Love Proof is an unusual love story about lasting connection, time, and intuition. It explores the course that perfect love can take between imperfect people, and urges us to listen to our hearts rather than our heads.