Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
To suggest a new question, or to comment on the material below,
Q1."What is this book, exactly? It is science fiction? Religious fiction? Something else?"
For me, the book "wears two hats." On the one hand, it's straightforward religious science fiction (although the absence of spaceships and aliens will make it possible for people who don't usually read science fiction to read it and enjoy it). On the other hand, it's a way of putting my Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense system into a narrative shape for the first time. Both functions are important to me. Very strictly speaking, Peacetalk 101 is an extended parable, with a set of small parables embedded in a larger one.
Q2."Why did you make the book so violent?"
This question comes up over and over again, and it always surprises me. One of the reasons that I chose to self-publish the book was that the editors my agent sent it to kept saying, "We'd like to publish it, but you'd have to tone down the violence," and I wasn't willing to make that change.
This perception that the book is violent baffles me, because not one single violent act takes place in the main narrative of Peacetalk 101. There are some bits of violence in the embedded parables -- the fate of the obnoxious turtle, for example -- but they're barely mentioned. The main character thinks about a violent act and makes plans for it -- but the description of that thinking and planning includes no "explicit" violence. There's none of the guts and gore that can be found in the majority of novels written for today's adults. If I ever had a chance to teach a class about the book, I would explore this issue with my students as fully as I could, because I'm at a loss to explain it.
Q3."Are we supposed to take the twelve "rules" seriously? I mean, did you just make them up
for the story, or do you think they have some kind of real-world function?"
I mean the rules absolutely seriously; for me, they're real-world rules. But I was careful to present them in such a manner that they wouldn't get in the way of a reader who doesn't find them interesting. You can certainly read them as if I'd just made them up for the story, if that's your preference.
Q4."Your hero is desperate, and prepared to do desperate things. But he doesn't seem to me to
be up against anything that would drive him that far. Why didn't you have something really terrible happen to him, to make his behavior more believable?"
Strange as it may seem, it isn't usually great catastrophes that drive people to desperation. Most people, faced with a personal disaster, seem to rise to the occasion; they're able to find a kind of inner strength that makes it possible for them to deal with the event. What wears people down and makes them desperate is the constant drip-drip-drip of a thousand little daily hassles happening over and over and over again with seemingly no hope that they'll ever stop.
Q5."What is Joe? You don't ever explain that. Is he just an unusually wise homeless person, or an angel, or an Alien in disguise, or what?"
I think that's a question that readers should be allowed to answer for themselves. For me to answer it would take away a number of interpretations that might be useful to readers and would create an "official" interpretation; if I'd wanted to do that, I wouldn't have written the book as a parable.
Copyright © 2003 by Suzette Haden Elgin