Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What Happened to Sophie Wilder

That’s the question we hope to know the answer to in the finishing pages of Christopher R Beha’s debut novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder (Tin House Books).

Beha’s wonderstruck writer of a main character, Charlie Blakeman, lost track of Sophie Wilder after they spent their college days in a turbulent relationship fueled by their mutual passion for writing, though he never stopped thinking about her. A serendipitous run-in with Sophie years later baffles him. The once impulsive, wild and free artist is now a devout Catholic, an ex-wife, and an ex-writer.

Sophie disappears from Charlie’s life as soon as she reappears, making her all the more attractive to him, and giving him all the more reason to find her.
As the New York Times points out in their book review, which was mostly positive, Charlie sums up his feelings about Sophie’s character when he describes her swimming in a pool in Connecticut:

“She moved quickly through the pool, though from where I was watching she appeared to do nothing to propel herself, like a bird that stays perfectly still while cutting through the sky. She seemed not so much a body as a shimmering trick of water and light.”

It’s always dangerous to write about a writer; especially since one of the easiest cop-outs for making a first person narrator super duper poetic is by making him or her a poet—surprise.

But the reviews from the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle seem to reinforce the idea that Beha’s book isn’t gimmicky. There might even be an intentional meta-writing element in this novel; a writer, Beha, is writing about a writer, Charlie, who seems to be writing about the woman he thinks he might love. What does it all mean?

Perhaps, like Charlie, we have as much control in the present moment as fictional characters do in a novel, which is very little, (Like Stranger than Fiction kind of). Or maybe it’s the exact opposite, and like a novelist, we dictate how our stories end. It’s impossible to say for sure without actually knowing what happened to Sophie Wilder.

-Dominick Sorrentino