The Other

Last week I wrote about the enisling that often creates the central structure of a novel. (And I think I misspelled it..) This enclosure results in a driving force within the story–the arrival of The Other, the stranger, the prodigal, the visitor, or in Maine, Summer People. During my teens I lived on the shore of Sebago Lake, predominantly an area peopled by folks “from away.” From Labor Day to the end of May, maybe a dozen families lived along our stretch of shoreline. Once the ice went out in April, the fisher folk arrived, and after them, like black flies, swarms of cottage people, renters, The Others. We profited from their spending–my first summer jobs were at a local family resort–but we breathed deeply when they packed up their kids and folding chairs and drove south, leaving the beach to those of us who felt a special ownership of the lake and all it offered.

This ambivalence over outsiders shows up in all sorts of ways, often under other names–racism, immigration laws, restricted club membership, the hate speech and crimes we struggle to prevent and don’t succeed. We divide ourselves along lines of color, sexual preference, country of origin, religion, income and education. And in fiction we often see the conflict rising with the arrival of a newcomer or the renewed awareness that someone among us is not really one of us. I just finished Julian Barnes’s Arthur and George. And it is the Parsee element of George’s life that underlies the mystery and the action. Although George Edjali and his family choose not to see attacks on their reputation and their freedom as racially driven, almost everyone else questions this seeming naivete.

I’m awed and challenged to have discovered that this otherness lies at the core of the novel I’m working on. A time traveler takes her culture and judgment with her and has tough lessons to learn about being an outsider. Whew! But recognizing this source of very human conflict actually makes the writing easier. I’ve met the enemy “and he is us.” Now I have to get over that out of state license plate on my car. Truth? This year I am one of the  summer people.

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