Mary Glick­man is the author of the Home in the Morn­ing, One More Riv­er, March­ing to Zion. With the upcom­ing release of her new nov­el An Undis­turbed Peace, Mary is blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Over the course of pub­li­ca­tion of four nov­els, I have become aware of a per­son­al truth that elud­ed me in the pre­vi­ous thir­ty odd years of writ­ing sev­en unpub­lished ones. Hold your breath. Here it comes. 

I write his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. That is, his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is my méti­er. I am it and it is me. 

When I look back on my writ­ing career — bat­tle-scarred vet­er­an that I am — I can see that when­ev­er I wrote nov­els of the present era or ven­tured into the more rar­efied ter­ri­to­ry of alle­go­ry, there was some­thing miss­ing, at the very least from the mar­ket­ing point of view. But there may have been deep­er flaws than mar­ket. It may be that my sen­si­bil­i­ties are most har­mo­nious with cul­tur­al tropes gone by. It may be that my gut finds indi­gestible mod­ernist pos­es, espe­cial­ly about things Jew­ish, the cur­rent antipa­thy towards all things Israeli, for exam­ple, or the gen­er­al lack of respect for the pious life, one I fail at liv­ing but great­ly admire. Or it may be some­thing entire­ly different.

I have always been enchant­ed by the past. I grew up on a diet of music, books, and film from my par­ents and grand­par­ents eras, their libraries and oral tra­di­tions. Long before I knew some­thing of Rashi, my spir­i­tu­al guides were Frank Capra, Ver­di and Puc­ci­ni, Dick­ens, the Brontes, Hugo, and Balzac. Enshrined in their work were icons of virtue, bless­ing, and tragedy: The Work­ing Stiff, The Fall­en Woman, The Moth­er, The Child, The Drunk­en Poet, The Kind­ly Grand­fa­ther, The Tor­tured One, and The Vil­lain, who could take many forms includ­ing The Fat Cat, The Over­seer, The Seduc­er, The Strong Arm. I also learned from the same sources that each of these icons could con­tain bits and pieces of its oppo­site, that noth­ing was as sim­ple as it seemed in a man­ner very dif­fer­ent from both melo­dra­ma and post­mod­ern cyn­i­cism. There was always a uni­ver­sal human­i­ty, clas­sic set pieces of con­tra­dic­tion, in my child­hood icons. They had res­o­nance for me, even as a pre­co­cious child absorb­ing sto­ries above her grade lev­el. Six­ty years lat­er, I admit I still find them the truest mod­els I know of real life. 

But on whom were they mod­eled? One need look no fur­ther than the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, to find the most glo­ri­ous array of human arche­types ever gath­ered in one place. Take human frailty for exam­ple. Where in all of lit­er­a­ture are there bet­ter exam­ples than an angry Moses, a lust­ful David, a jeal­ous Cain, a drunk­en Noah? I don’t think it’s an acci­dent that before Dick­ens, before the Brontes, my first child­hood books were pic­ture books of Bible sto­ries, sto­ries and char­ac­ters that con­sumed my imag­i­na­tion even then.

At present, we live in a world where the com­mon wis­dom has it that truth is elu­sive and per­son­al, good is defined by polit­i­cal desires, evil judged nonex­is­tent, at least in the tra­di­tion­al sense. No small won­der then that a writer of my pro­cliv­i­ties needs to trav­el back in time to exer­cise her favored images of heroes and hero­ines, antag­o­nists and forces of nature in which the Voice of God bel­lows warn­ing into deaf, unwill­ing ears. Back then, I am home. My his­tor­i­cal peo­ple can breathe, walk, love, sin, expi­ate, and sac­ri­fice. In the present, they might only be objects of fun. But when they are set in the past, read­ers find res­o­nance, recog­ni­tion, and are moved.

Mary Glick­man was born on the South Shore of Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts, and stud­ied at the Uni­ver­sité de Lyon and Boston Uni­ver­si­ty. She now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina.

Relat­ed Content:

Mary Glick­man has authored five nov­els, Home in the Morn­ing, Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Final­ist in Fic­tion’s One More Riv­er, March­ing to Zion, An Undis­turbed Peace, list­ed by South­ern Liv­ing as a best nov­el of 2016, and By the Rivers of Baby­lon. She lives on Johns Island, South Car­oli­na, with her hus­band, Stephen, and two demand­ing cats.