The young of the town, preoccupied with their own germinating angst, which each possessed in varying degree (though few were ever fully aware of its existence), felt no particular connection to the land, its people, its structures, or its history. As such, they had no inclination to defend its invisible borders from declared enemies within or without. They desired only escape from this small village, which each viewed as an existential prison built upon the antiquated expectations of their parents and their parents' parents. And because of their invisible bondage, the young of this town were possessed by a quiet rage. But this rage laid torpid and inert within them, dulled to sleep by the tired repetition of nothing happening over and over and over again, day after day after day. This is the story of one of those young people, and the terrible things that happened to her, and the terrible things she did as a result.
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Kansas afternoons in late summer are peculiar and wondrous things. Often they are pregnant, if not over-ripe, with a pensive and latent energy that is utterly incapable of ever finding an adequate release for itself. This results in a palpable, almost frenetic tension that hangs in the air just below the clouds. By dusk, spread thin across the quilt-work farmlands by disparate prairie winds, this formless energy creates an abscess in the fabric of space and time that most individuals rarely take notice of. But in the soulish chambers of particularly sensitive observers, it elicits a familiar recognition-a vague remembrance-of something both dark and beautiful. Some understand it simply as an undefined tranquility tinged with despair over the loss of something now forgotten. For others, it signifies something far more sinister, and is therefore something to be feared.
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Living is the opposite of poetry. Poetry is the recollection of living, or, more often than not, the lament of having not lived. Or worse yet, merely the contemplation of living. My advice to you, Ms. Harper, is this: Live. And keep living. And never stop to look back to write about what you have lived and observed and overcome, lest you turn into a pillar of salt. This desert life is already full of such monoliths.
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Good fiction doesn't claim to mirror reality at all. It indicts reality by providing a paradigm of shape and order and justice-the way we all know things should be-without suggesting that's how things really are. Good fiction is the mirage that declares itself a mirage, yet compels us to faith through its beauty. Good fiction is the dream that's too good to be true, so perfect and symmetrical that it gives itself away every time. But it doesn't trick you into suspending your disbelief by trying to look anything like reality. Good fiction makes you acutely, painfully aware of your disbelief, and makes you believe anyway. And when it's done well-when it's done right-good fiction is more real than reality.
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You can never really escape. It goes with you, wherever you go. Somehow, the prairie dust gets in your blood, and it flows through your veins until it becomes a part of you. The vast stretches of empty fields, the flat horizons of treeless plains. The simplicity of the people-good, earnest people. The way they talk and the way they live. The lack of occurrence, lack of attention, lack of everything. All that-it's etched into your soul and it colors the way you see everything and it becomes a part of you. Eventually, Ms. Harper, when you leave, everything you experience outside of Kansas will be measured against all you know here. And none of it will make any sense.
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