In Susan Choi’s A Person of Interest, Dr. Lee, a 65-year-old university professor, is far from being “saintly.” He made mistakes in his life, as do most people. But he is honest to a fault. Yet he becomes “a person of interest” for the FBI, after his colleague is killed by a bomb in his office. Even though Dr. Lee is not a suspect, per se, his life is derailed. And once his reputation is tarnished, it’s tarnished for good, no matter that the criminal responsible for the bombing has been found and arrested. The real bomber’s “arrest hadn’t dispelled the suspicion that hung around Lee, but the suspicion had altered in texture. … Lee was now a completely ambiguous person, and if no one felt able to judge him, no one wanted to absolve him either.” (344)
And to me, it’s the most terrible thing: that once you get yourself in a situation when someone doesn’t believe in your innocence, it seems impossible to prove it. People just refuse to accept it as true.
A Person of Interest is not a fast read: the sentences are long and emotionally-charged; each paragraph is filled with minute details, and every detail carries psychological weight. But that’s what pulls the reader in: you’re with the characters, and the rest of the world ceases to exist.
Great writing affects me in two ways: either it inspires me, making me want to keep writing, striving to do better, or it tells me to just drop writing period, in which case I think, if I’ll never, ever, ever be able to produce anything as beautiful and thought-provoking as this piece, then why even try?
And that’s the effect this novel had on me. It’s not just great, it’s brilliant! To write like this takes incredible talent.
I know, I know, some successful authors (Elizabeth George, for one) claim that one can learn writing, that hundreds of books on how-to-write-fiction can teach you.
It’s true. Still, you have to be born with Susan Choi’s talent to write such exquisite and profound prose. You have to deeply understand human nature, to be able to describe people as truthfully as she does.
Well then, should I quit writing?
I don’t want to! 🙂