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  • Writer's pictureRuth Rotkowitz


Updated: Mar 4, 2021

SO - the election is actually over. I don't know about any of you, but I became consumed with every piece of news, every quote, every prediction. While my husband couldn't stand watching or reading news for more than a few minutes at a time, I could read and watch for hours. I vented with friends, and followed posts on social media. I felt as if I were falling into a deep hole and could only hope for the day when the election would be over and I could climb back out.

Will this election find its way into works of fiction sometime in the future? Of course it will. The elections we experience are part of the environment we inhabit. It doesn't matter which candidate we favor, the controversies swirling around every election seem to seep into everyone's mind, everyone's world.

In my novel ESCAPING THE WHALE, the election between the incumbent Jimmy Carter and the Republican challenger Ronald Reagan forms a backdrop to the novel's plot. More importantly, I think, it creates a path to understanding the main character, Marcia Gold.

I purposely did not have Marcia articulate a clear preference for one candidate over the other. In fact, she voices criticism of both of them, for different reasons. The reader can draw some inferences as to her political affiliation, but that is not important. What I felt was important in including some election news was its connection to the environment the novel inhabits. The political scene at any time is part of the pervading atmosphere. In my novel, the atmosphere impacts Marcia and contributes to her mental anguish. In the Carter-Reagan contest, the hostage crisis in Iran became the test, the issue with which the incumbent could be challenged, the crisis on everyone's radar, the cornerstone of the election. Emotions ran high over this issue.

It seems there has been a cornerstone issue at play in the election we have just experienced as well. How we react to that cornerstone issue affects how we vote. When an issue affects voter's lives, or dominates the news, the issue becomes an emotional one. However, in a work of fiction, the main character's state of mind is the focus. I believe in letting elections remain in the background in fiction, so that they serve to illuminate the point of view of the protagonist and not become the story itself. I hope I have accomplished that in ESCAPING THE WHALE.

One day in the future, this election will also be viewed from a distance that will enable us to analyze it coherently, without the attendant emotion. I hope for novels that will place it in the background, not the foreground, of a story, and thereby show us all how it affected a character's everyday functioning. If the reader identifies with that character, it can reveal personal truths. I look forward to works of fiction that will achieve that.


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