Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Rules in Fiction

Rules by Cynthia Lord
The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
The Alison Rules by Catherine Clark

I've just read the first two books, back to back. I read the third about a year ago. I've been abstractly thinking about the role rules can play in life since finishing Rules of Survival.

Rules can be good things, they keep us safe, they provide guidelines for our activities, a framework for interacting with others . . .
But rules can be dangerous. There can be too many rules. Rules can be too constrictive, stifling creativity and passion.

The rules in Rules are intended to help David, an autistic child, function in a world that he is not in tune with and is not in tune with him. The rules in Rules of Survival try to minimize the likelihood Matt and his sisters will be beaten by their mother. And the rule in The Alison Rules help Alison deal with the death of her mother. But most of these rules are arbitrary. David still puts toys in the fish tank, Matt's mother still abuses her children, and Alison's life is still messy.

A lot of fiction for young people seems to focus on rules. (Two galleys just came my way.) Children are either searching for a set of rules to live by, or struggling to live by the rules the written (and unwritten) rules that surround them. Don't chew gum in school, don't run in the library, don't talk to strangers, don't look too different . . .

Do a search for adult books on rules and you get things like Rules for Marriage and Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators. Is this because adults are searching for rules as much as kids? I know I'm more comfortable with a few guidelines, than with nothing at all. Is freedom from rules too scary? All the characters in books seem to have some kind of positive reaction to letting go of rules.

I want to have some kind of profound revelation, but my mind just keeps swimming between all the types of rules we encounter. So I will end my babbling and leave you with this quotation, that somehow feels relevant, from Dogma (via Amazon).

Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the s*** that gets carried out in His name - wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
Bethany: Having beliefs isn't good?
Rufus: I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant.

(and then sometime later)

Rufus: Are you saying you believe?
Bethany: No. But I have a good idea.

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