Last week, Jeffrey Overstreet quoted part of an interview with Sara Zarr, a finalist for the National Book Award this year for her first novel, “Story of a Girl”. When asked why she didn’t make her book safe and inoffensive, why she included stuff like underage sex and curse words, she gave this answer:
Reactionary people without critical thinking skills aren’t really my target audience. My family, my friends, my church have all been very supportive. There’s actually a pretty large and growing contingent of Christians out there who embrace all kinds of art and its capacity for delving into the gray areas that make up most of our lives. Anyway, I’m not really about making other Christians happy by being inoffensive. Life is offensive. If we, of all people — Christians, who claim to be offering some kind of hope for mankind, in Jesus — can’t grapple with that, then the claims of hope are pretty much empty. If we can’t deal honestly and authentically with the smaller heartbreaks of family and identity and friendship, how can we even open a newspaper? Christians who seek a squeaky-clean, inoffensive version of life are, in a way, denying that we might possibly need help with some of this, thereby rendering faith, well, pointless. That said, I do think there is a place for the good and beautiful and uplifting and clean, as long as it’s not sentimentalized and does not replace an at least occasional head-on stare into the world as it is.
As someone who grew up in and around the first group Sara talks about, and who was still a part of that group until a couple years ago, I’m also glad to see more and more people embracing art that isn’t afraid to look at the complexity of real life, people who don’t judge art by “swear words and body parts”. And I’m going to add that first sentence to the list of my favorite quotes – “Reactionary people without critical thinking skills aren’t really my target audience.”