Friday, December 12, 2008

Again with the Schmaltz

In one of my December posts from a couple of years ago, I asked the question, “Who doesn’t want a little schmaltz in their Christmas celebrations?” And I remain as committed to the defense in literature of what commonly falls under that term (wholesomeness, heart-stirring emotion, fortunate coincidences, happy endings, etc.) even as I stand devotedly against the cynical, unobservant snobs who argue that such pleasant things do not exist in real life.

They do.

Indeed, it is only in modern art (literature and music included) that “schmaltz” has died. Everywhere else, it is alive and very well.

And I know whereof I speak.

After all, didn’t I arrive in 1970 in a town (where I have since built my adult life) amid the wildest circumstances? I was broke, hitchhiking, hundreds of miles away from all that was familiar to me, knowing no one and having no clue why I was here. If I tried to set that in a novel plot, modern literary critics would deride it as too contrived, too unbelievable, too schmaltzy.

But it happened.

And equally wild coincidences occurred the very next day when I found a job, a home and what were to be the foundations of my future life – just because I happened to walk up a certain street and because I happen to have been delayed by two events which put me at the pivotal location at the pivotal moment.

Contrived? Certainly not by me. But there you have it.

As my life continued, so have coincidences every bit as supra-rational as those mentioned. My life, not very different from those I know around me, has also been deeply marked by those other things which are so often labeled schmaltzy -- profound emotions, grievous moral crises which are sometimes followed by the most happy of conclusions, encounters with heroes and villains more real than those invented by Dumas or Dickens. And, yes, there’s also emerged in my life a crystal clear moral vision; that wholesomeness which gives purpose, strength and the most daring of hopes.

Different people will try and relate these things to magic or ministering angels, to lady luck or divine sovereignty. But this much is clear. No close and honest observer can deny the reality of coincidence, romance, sacrifice, dreams coming true, and the most inexplicable of conversions.

There are in this everyday world, love and honor and high surprise.

Schmaltz happens.

And so where does schmaltz fit in one’s literary pursuits? Well, I don't believe Christmas’ should be the only season it makes its appearance. That's why I read O. Henry all year round. But then again, with the Advent season involving the most unique and splendid miracle of all human history, it’s no surprise that schmaltz has found an especially comfortable home in Christmas literature.

So, as you read through this December’s Book Den entries (as well as posts from earlier years found via the “Topical Search” available on the right sidebar), you’ll undoubtedly find a lot of books and poetry and other stuff which modern Grinches would dismiss as only “schmaltz.”

But if your life occurs outside the pages of books, then you know that schmaltz really is occurring all around you: in your travels; in your love life, in your interactions with children and animals and nature; in many of your everyday experiences.

So why be embarrassed to admit you like a little schmaltz between the pages too?