The Hands of Gravity and Chance is about the interior life of the members of a family, as well as the interior life of the family itself. While this is the arena in which I work as an analyst, there is an enormous difference between treating an individual in analysis and creating a character in a novel. In the latter, anything is possible and everything is the creation of the author. So, a good deal of the work involved in my writing this novel was the task of using this extraordinary freedom that is available to a novelist while at the same time making the extraordinary plausible, in the sense that it rings true to the reader’s emotional experience. As John McGahern put it, “The novel has a responsibility to be plausible, life doesn’t.”
I am struck—more in reading Gravity and Chance than in writing it—by the way in which fate, hubris, and tragedy are as much a driving force in this novel as they are in Greek tragedy. In Gravity and Chance, in place of the enigmatic pronouncements of an oracle, there is the ineradicable, inescapable core of who we are as human beings. And yet we fight to seize control of our lives where humanly possible within the terms of the life we have been dealt. This is the underlying story of Gravity and Chance: characters struggling to overcome their limitations, and having a degree of success in doing so. Were there no success, the book would be intolerably boring. It is the way characters achieve change, despite the gravitational pull in them to safety and stasis, that interests us, intrigues us, for that is what we all are trying to do with our own lives.
I believe that a novel must be suspenseful. I attempt in Gravity and Chance to write a story that the reader, at every turn, will want to know what’s going to happen to these characters, how will they handle the problems they are facing.
Writing Gravity and Chance was a different experience from that of writing my first novel, The Parts Left Out. The difference lies to a large extent in the scope of the two novels. Gravity and Chance is a longer novel that involves movement between three periods of the life of the family, while The Parts Left Out involves only two. This difference created both unexpected complexity in keeping track of the characters as they grow from infants to parents, and unexpected opportunities to examine the enormous force the different generations exert on one another.
For me, a novel has to be emotionally powerful to the point that I am changed, however greatly or slightly, by the experience of reading it. That is the standard I hope a reader will bring to The Hands of Gravity and Chance and come away with a feeling that he or she is now a bit different from the person who picked up the book.
Thomas H. Ogden, MD, published his debut novel, The Parts Left Out, in 2014. He has also published twelve books of essays on the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, and on the writings of Frost, Borges, Kafka, and others. His most recent works of non-fiction include Reclaiming Unlived Life: Experiences in Psychoanalysis; The Analyst’s Ear and the Critic’s Eye: Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Literature; Creative Readings: Essays on Seminal Analytic Works; Rediscovering Psychoanalysis; and This Art of Psychoanalysis: Dreaming Undreamt Dreams and Interrupted Cries. He practices psychoanalysis in San Francisco, where he teaches both psychoanalysis and creative writing. His latest novel, The Hands of Gravity and Chance, is published this week by Karnac.