If you’ve read anything this year, it might have been some fine fiction that helped you escape from everything going on around you. Or maybe help you deal with current anxieties by getting you thinking about other anxieties. But eventually you will look back on everything you went through and see it through the eyes of a character.
I’m talking about novels that take place in a time we’ve already lived through. One day you may read a novel that takes place during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. After all, an entire year of our lives, so far, has involved some sort of quarantine, mask-wearing, shutdown of business, political upheaval, and other effects of a pandemic. You can’t just ignore that.
Some stories will skip over it and pretend it didn’t happen, either in service of another story or because the readers of that story just don’t want to be reminded of it.
But someone will write about it. A story the core of which involves life in the midst of a 21st century pandemic. Not to mention a story that merely, well, features it. Emerging from a time like this, we will have some stories to tell. And we will want to crystallize them with creative writing.
Other great authors have written fine pandemic novels. Here are some examples:
A Journal of the Plague Year by Robinson Crusoe
Lots of dead bodies pile up in London. Otherwise the streets are empty. Foreigners are blamed.
Love in The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A young doctor marries a young woman while fighting off a cholera epidemic, experiencing the heartbreaks of an imperfect marriage and an imperfect life.
The Plague by Albert Camus
A plague arrives in a town in French Algeria. A doctor pops a lot of nasty sores. Nobody seems able to escape their conditions.
In each of these books we see an entire culture changed, not just by the disease that ravages it, but by the ways in which people react to the disease. We see how it reveals human nature in ways that are captured by those who lived through and/or studied deeply the sweeping contagions of their time.
We will need pandemic novels. Not an abundance, but some. Escapism and nostalgia and hope are all important. But so is interpretive posterity and catharsis. Many great authors will forever be remembered for the plagues their fiction captured. And this pandemic not being so bad, the stories of how we’re shaped by affliction are forever more apparent than the affliction itself.
Who will write our great Coronavirus novels? Time will tell. Maybe it will be you.