Anyone Seen Marianne Keyes’ Shoes?
Have You Seen Marianne Keyes’ Shoes?
Do authors such as Marianne Keyes really know what it’s like to walk in your shoes? What if there are only a handful of shoes that we wear, in the same way that there are only 7 story arcs that are written?
Let’s take a look at these arcs:
- Overcoming the monster
- Rags to riches
- The quest
- Voyage and return
When we say you need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand them completely, these shoes could well fit into one of the seven story arcs above, and in realising this connection, what we then see in literature is the potential of true connection between an author and a reader. Because writers need to write what they know, and readers need to see themselves in what is written.
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It doesn’t mean we wear the same shoes in the same way, but let’s say for a moment that your shoes are the same as mine. Does it mean they feel the same to each of us? Of course not. Because that’s the difference. You and I are different. How we wear these shoes, what we wear them with, how we accessorize them, and how far we can walk in them without them crippling us very much depends on how weathered our feet are and how comfortable or accustomed we have become within them.
When we see that someone has walked in our shoes, a resonance of deeper understanding between us and them is made, and author Marianne Keyes stands out a mile when I think of what stories shaped my understanding of self and what the literary world for women should be, and is, because of authors like her.
Speaking of resonance, my first encounter of Marianne Keyes was with her story Watermelon. I was given the book by my friend who’d been drawn to the story because it mirrored her own devastating reality. Two weeks after her son was born, his father left for another woman. The vulnerability, and perhaps even shame that plagued that vulnerability, was written within the pages of Watermelon. Whilst fresh and new to us twenty-somethings at the time, this story, whether Keyes knew it or not, is a story that reflected other personal stories across the globe. Generation after generation women have been left literally holding the baby and desperately trying to hold themselves together in the process.
You could say that this story is as old as time itself. And for that reason, there are so many women who were walking, have walked, or would be walking in the same shoes as Claire, the 29 year old protagonist of this book, that the story itself, and the shoes Claire wore had already been worn a thousand times over, were already being walked in presently, and would be passed onto future women a thousand times more. This is the essence of an old adage presented in new fashion, and it’s because of this new fashion, because of the way we (once) twenty-somethings saw (or see) ourselves that new and fresh story-telling was (or is) what we needed for the story to reflect back on us. Just because shoes are well-worn doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be re-healed.
Keyes’ ability to recognise this, consciously or subconsciously, earned her the love of many readers which I imagine are still members of her loyal fan base today. This author, this lovely warm, emotionally intelligent woman crept into the hearts of many with her ability for creating characters just like you and me. The beauty of her story-telling comes down to the warmth, compassion and love within her heart. This is where brilliant story-telling comes from, and Marianne Keyes shows she has this in abundance.
My friend saw herself in the story Watermelon. I saw my friend’s vulnerability and pain from a new perspective through reading Watermelon. We tend to forget to say things in reality. We tend to hide behind shame, guilt, or the feeling that the reality that swarms the situation is enough without words. Yet this book, and literature in general, provides answers and introspection that can be held back as a form of self-defence or self-preservation in the everyday reality that we live, or at times, endure.
The other aspect of what this story offers is hope. Hope for a better day. Hope for a better guy. Hope that we recognise ‘the better’ when it’s in front of us. Because, let’s face it, it can take us women a long time to wake up and recognise what’s good for us, who is good for us. And believe that the good guys are in fact so much better at making our hearts skip a beat, our stomachs flip and our fannies flutter than the not-so-great guys ever were. The very reality that we put up with the ‘bad lot’ for so long is beyond my comprehension, but from a personal point of view, I look at it as a period of growth through bad choices for ‘momentarily’ good reasons which should have been reigned in much sooner than they were. Most of us have made good choices that have swiftly turned bad where guys are concerned, and some of us stuck around hoping to rekindle the good a while longer than we should have.
Literature has a beautiful way of allowing us to be the observer, and in being so, we become wise. So wise, that we see the bad guys from a distance and tell the likes of Claire in the pages of Watermelon to “Move on! You’re better off without him.” And when the new guy comes in, the guy that we can just tell is the ‘good guy’ and is worth every inch of Claire’s time, we fully invest in watching the new feel-good, nourishing, all-encompassing romance flourish into worthy love. You don’t have to have been left holding a two-week-old baby to get the message of this book, you just need to be a young woman with the hope of finding that perfect guy whom you love completely, irrevocably, and who in return, loves you right back.
Keyes’ literary wisdom may have been over-sighted for lack of critical acclaim within the snobbery of the misogynistic literary world, but her success is mirrored in book sales and the love of her fans. Success comes in all shapes and sizes, and I for one wouldn’t feel I was doing myself any favours if I received critical acclaim for a work that kept me out of touch and out of reach of the hearts of my readers. Because that’s the point, is it not? The reader? Not the award.
It is intelligence such as Keyes’ and our own ability to let is register and process that help us shape into the women we are today. The way that characters are presented in literature is similar to how characters are presented to us in life. Yet, in life we are not the keen observer sitting back and watching. In life, we are taking part, missing our cues and stumbling into messy territory. If we didn’t have books from authors like Marianne Keyes, we might never recognise ourselves or hope for better. Stories such as Watermelon help to show readers what a not-so-great-guy looks like. If we’re smart enough, we spot it from a mile away. But like I said, when you’re not a mile away, and you’re up close and personal, it’s pretty hard to see the wood for the trees. We may be armed with truths about relationships and certain types of people from the books we read, but we are also human with desires, hopes, dreams and sometimes, the inability to see ourselves as vulnerable. And this is the nice part of women’s literature. The authors of such are not throwing in attempts of making us feel vulnerable. They are attempting to give us the building blocks that create strength, worth, courage, compassion, kindness (for self) and wisdom in understanding that all that we seek is possible.
Such works of women’s literature provide us with clues of what to look for and imprints of what something should feel like. This is indeed no unworthy genre. This is a genre supporting women, creating worth, projecting value, and channelling hope that whatever is messy can be tidied. They are pieces of entertainment and escapism, yet they are also pieces of inspiration. The publishing industry may still not put a value on authors inspiring women through well-crafted characters and story-arcs, but the value is not really theirs to take. The value sits with us, and as long as we recognise this value, and recognise the value that we have to share in our own stories, then the idea of becoming an author that reaches for this resonance is much more achievable.
Whilst Watermelon resonated with me, I found myself connecting on a deeper level when I discovered that it was Keyes’ debut novel, published a year after she’d finished rehab. The idea of an highly successful author, connecting with me on such an intrinsic level, having won a publishing contract where others saw her worth and value to mass market, filled me with something I wasn’t familiar with at the time. This feeling was hope, that maybe, just maybe, one day someone would be interested in what I had to say. That my voice would be of worth and of value. And, I can say without doubt, that if I felt this way then some other author for some other twenty-something aspiring writer might lend the same message. This is the message I carry with me now into my forties. Because it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, how many books you’ve written or whether you think you might be able to write a book – the truth has been and is always present – your voice has value.
The reason why Marianne Keyes drew me through her stint in rehab was because I recognised something in her. A deep emotional connection with life and people. It was this connection (obviously present through the stories she writes) that led her to write a best seller, and countless others. She is not afraid to be truthful, authentic, and real. Marianne Keyes had used her moments of discomfort and loss of self to fuel a place from where she anchored a new beginning, and which then provided anchor for so many of her readers. Her wisdom, told through her stories, have provided reprieve, relief, recognition and inspiration to readers across the globe. I’d say that was success in itself. What better way to tell someone they matter, that their lives are worthy, that their stories can change by having them reflected back at you in the work of a book, and by having that author be the example of such strength, courage, and wisdom.
Just the fact that she’d needed rehab in the first place warmed me to her and all that she wrote. This wasn’t a woman author that preached academic intelligence (not that I doubt for a moment that she lacks it), this was a person reaching out in a highly relatable way, on a personal level, in language that was understood universally. This was a woman that I could relate to. And she just so happened to be an author.
Through the stories of authors such as Marianne Keyes, I was able to feel myself within the pages of those books. To see yourself, to be able to become aware of a behaviour and reflect on your life choices is a powerful recognition that we are more than we are, that we can become more than we are. And that not just the stories of our favourite authors have the ability to effect change in a persons’ life, but each and every one of us has a story that can do the same for someone else. Because, as I said in the beginning, there are only 7 story arcs retold, rehashed, recreated over and over again, each version slightly different to the last – just like there are only a handful of shoes that can possibly be worn.
Life has a way of repeating itself, over and over, across generations and through time. Our stories, our experiences are only different by the way we choose to deal with them, or how we choose to walk in the shoes given to us at those times. If we can see ourselves so effortlessly in the realism of the stories told by Marianne Keyes, and many other amazing women authors like her, then you should be able to see that your experience, your story, your vulnerability, your shame, and all your unthinkable moments as well as the ones your proud of are in fact something to be shared – because I guarantee you – there will be someone out there needing to know how to walk in their shoes a little easier, or they might be hoping to get a new pair of shoes altogether.
Respectfully your guide,