In my part of the world we’re moving into phase 2 of the reopening of the economy. Restaurants, bars and cafes will have some indoor seating. Some streets may close to traffic in order to allow more patio seating. Hairdressers and dentists can open their offices. Gyms are back in business.
Some stores require a mask, some provide hand sanitizers. Some will not allow customers inside at all but offer pick up at the door. Social distancing is still required everywhere. We’ll all have to learn new rules and more than one set.
Looking at life after the shutdown, I wonder if there will be COVID inspired stories. Authors still write about the defining moments in history, like the two world wars, the American civil war, the Napoleonic wars, and Roman conquests and a host of other seminal events. Will this be the story of our time?
As inspiration for fiction, wars are “easy.” Lots of scope for derring do, for self-sacrifice, for love against the odds, for heartbreak and sorrow and starting over.
Illness, especially one that keeps us all at a distance, doesn’t provide as much scope. The “enemy” is invisible. We don’t know if we have defeated him or never encountered him. Mostly we are asked to sacrifice for the sake of others, but we can’t see the results. We don’t know if our neighbours are healthy because of what we did, or if it is just luck.
When I look at the bookshelves, I don’t see a lot of plague literature, even though the Black Death wiped out 50 million people, 60% of Europe’s population. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a selection of my book club, is the only novel I’ve read with the plague as a major feature. I found the story unsettling. the scale of death incomprehensible. Maybe I’ll read it again in light of our own experience.
Five centuries later, the Spanish ‘flu took the lives of millions of people. Again, it has not been a major theme in American literature. The Smithsonian offers up an explanation with this report.
Will our generation of writers tell about this defining moment in our history? Will we have stories of heroism by front-line workers in hospitals?
Will we have love stories about how couples kept the faith with each other while one was on a ventilator and no visitors were allowed?
Or what about those couples with long-term marriages who could not visit each other after fifty or sixty years of marriage. Will they be the inspiration for fiction writers?
Will we have psychological thrillers about families forced to spend eight weeks together inside their homes?
Will we have stories about the lost moments — no graduation ceremonies, no big weddings, no milestone birthday parties, not even a proper funeral for loved ones who died. I think that latter is one of the saddest consequences of this silent killer.
With so many deaths, will we see a surge of “starting over” stories?
Or will writers shy away from a real-life event that is just too overwhelming? How can a fictional story stand up amid the reality of COVID 19? Similar questions were asked after 9/11. See this article in the Economist.
What do you think? Writers, do you see an opportunity for story-telling in our current experience?
For readers, do you want to read about “Covid lockdown?” Or would you rather put the whole thing out of mind? Are you too busy figuring out how to live with our new normal to have an interest in the worst moments of the epidemic?
Share your thoughts in the comments section. We could have a great conversation.