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A poet, I’m leery of explanations; often that perfect last line is my desperate attempt to guarantee readers get it, that the message is clear. In such cases, I hear my dear friend and teacher, Edwina Trentham, advising me: “Trust the poem.” Almost always, that perfect last line gets cut. So discussing life lessons in The Namesake, is a challenge. I’ll mostly leave it to my characters to dole out lessons, trusting readers to find those they need, learning them alongside the main character, Evan Galloway, as he grapples in the aftermath of his father’s suicide.
Still, without dictating meaning, I’ll say The Namesake is a novel of faith, forgiveness, and love. While religion, Catholicism specifically, plays an important role in the story, faith takes a broader meaning. Faith—in self and in relationships, as well as in God—drives the plot. Ultimately, though he questions, Evan realizes that, without faith, life at its core is empty.
Another colossal lesson Evan learns from his doomed father is that forgiveness is supremely difficult to grant oneself. The scene where Father Brendan discusses forgiveness was very poignant for me to write. It’s probably the closest I get to an overt message, and it still has the power to make me emotional. Maybe that’s because it’s a hard-won lesson for me as well.
Without channeling Celine Dion, I’ll say The Namesake is also about the power of love. Evan finds, through its loss and through what remains, just how essential love is. He also recognizes that where there is love, there is, inevitably, unimaginable pain. Significantly, he comes to realize that this coexistence of love and loss is symbiotic. As Evan puts it toward the end of the book, “. . . the bad stuff seems important in a new way. Like part of the recipe: the bitter lemon that makes the coconut sweeter.” One of my working titles for the novel was actually The Sweet Bitter, but perhaps I was being both too vague and too obvious.
Personally, writing The Namesake has taught me lessons of faith, persistence, and trust. There were many stumbling blocks along Publication Road, yet I knew I owed it to these characters to tell their story. There were moments of great doubt, and I often battled that loud inner voice telling me the story didn’t matter. I found affirmation in the faith of others: my wife, Janet; supportive family members; good, honest friends. They believed when I didn’t. And I found strength in Evan—he’s just so freaking persistent—to continue, even at the lowest points. I came to trust the story was there, it needed to be told, and I was, in fact, the only one who could tell it. The Namesake took me to some pretty dark and unexpected places, but with faith, I uncovered truly important lessons about writing, about life—and about myself. Now it’s time for you, reader, to find lessons of your own. Feel free to share them with me.
Leave a comment by 12:01 AM on 11/16 on the Fresh Fiction site for the chance to win a signed hardcover or ebook copy of The Namesake!
The unedited version of this post originally appeared on “Ashley Loves Books” Blog, January 17, 2013