An Essay by Gae Polisner, Author of The Pull of Gravity
People often ask why I incorporated John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men into my contemporary young adult novel, The Pull of Gravity (FSG, May 10, 2011). The short answer is that it was part intention, and part serendipity.
The Pull of Gravity follows teens Nick Gardner and Jaycee Amato who, armed only with the wisdom of Yoda, a rare first-edition copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and the vaguest of plans, embark on a secret road trip to try to keep a promise to the Scoot, their dying friend.
With the words “vaguest of plans,” those familiar with Of Mice & Men will already recognize a glaring connection between the works: In both stories, plans go awry, and, in the course of the unraveling, Nick and Jaycee (like Lennie and George) learn some valuable, if at times painful, life lessons.
Intention vs. serendipity.
When I started writing The Pull of Gravity, I knew first and foremost that I wanted to write a character-driven piece, the ilk of which I read as a kid from the likes of Zindel, Blume, Konigsburg. To me, character-driven means that the characters are *the* reason you want to know the story, and not the other way around, with the plot driving the story. As Nick and Jaycee formed on the page, I thought, ‘how better to see if Jaycee is as persuasive and intriguing as I want her to be (and the chemistry between the two teens as real as I hope), than by seeing if she can *sell* the merits of an often-taught work of classic literature to Nick, a 15-yr old boy.’ Hence, the sort of muse-driven idea of incorporating a classic novel was born.
But which piece of classic literature to choose? That is where intention factored in, and the connections between The Pull of Gravity and Of Mice and Men began to take shape.
Why Of Mice and Men?
One of the main reasons I chose Of Mice and Men was that it seems to hold more appeal for teen boys than some of the other mandatory classics still assigned, perhaps for obvious reasons. George and Lennie, the two main characters, are male. Most of the supporting characters are men. Given that I consciously wrote a novel that might appeal to both girl and boy readers, it was key not to alienate my male audience.
A bigger reason, though, was the theme of friendship that reverberates through Of Mice and Men. Indeed, the ending of Of Mice and Men may contain the ultimate act of friendship to be found in modern literature. Likewise, friendship is the main theme in The Pull of Gravity. Nick and Jaycee need each other, and their friendship buoys them through a time of change, heartache and pain.
I’ve also attempted to keep some structural similarities between the pieces. Of Mice & Men is a short work of fiction – a novella at 107 pages. George and Lennie’s story takes place over a mere four days. They set out on a Thursday and the story concludes on a Sunday.
While The Pull of Gravity is a longer work at 208 pages, the time frame of the story is brief, and the main part of Nick and Jaycee’s journey, to wit, their time in the Rochester hotel, also unfolds Thursday through Sunday.
Certainly, when I go into classrooms, I love to talk to students about how amazing it is that Steinbeck was able to create so much empathy for, and connection to, his characters in the space of so little time and so few words – the reader gets to know George and Lennie and, more importantly, to care about them, in not much more than a mere breath.
Similarly, Nick and Jaycee’s relationship unfolds quickly; they become important to one another – and, I hope to the reader— over a brief period.
Other Common Themes
- The American Dream (“Everybody Wants a Place of their Own”). Both The Pull of Gravity and Of Mice and Men deal with the desire to attain the American Dream: work that is bearable (if not more) and a small patch of land that feels like home. In The Pull of Gravity, Nick’s father is unable to attain this goal, to balance metropolitan career aspirations with his family’s move to the suburbs, which is one of the failures that spurs the main action of the book. Similarly, Jaycee is relegated to her mother’s new husband’s gaudy house, and, moreso, to the fluffy pink bedroom of the new husband’s daughter that will never feel like home.
- Disability. Of Mice and Men illuminates the prejudices suffered by Lennie because of his retardation, but also the burden on George, his friend, in trying to care for him. In The Pull of Gravity, the Scoot has a physical, rather than mental, disability, and while he doesn’t suffer the direct prejudices Lennie does, Nick – just like George with Lennie – struggles with his role as a loyal friend versus obligated caretaker to the Scoot.
- Loss & Loneliness. The Pull of Gravity opens with this quote from Of Mice and Men:
“Lennie broke in. ‘But not us! An’ why? Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.’ He laughed delightedly.”
This quote epitomizes the friendship theme that resonates through both stories. Without each other, George and Lennie have no one. Similarly, Jaycee and Nick experience a lack of fitting in, connecting, until they find one another.
Of course, the counters to friendship are loneliness and loss, and these themes also run through both stories. George and Lennie have suffered loss when we first meet them, and, once at the farm, there is the loss of Candy’s dog, of Lennie’s puppy, of Curly’s wife, and ultimately each other. In The Pull of Gravity Nick, Jaycee and the Scoot have all suffered parental loss (whether temporary or permanent). It is a bond they have in common. They also each suffer the loss of their family structure, and ultimately, Nick and Jaycee suffer the loss of their dear friend, the Scoot.
Connector Texts for The Pull of Gravity:
Freak the Mighty, Rodman Philbrick
Godless, by Pete Hautman
The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
You may find additional information about The Pull of Gravity including advance praise at the author’s website, http://gaepolisner.com, as well as an early review here at http://professornana.livejournal.com/520777.html.
Gae Polisner is the author of The Pull of Gravity, Frances Foster Books/FSG, May 10, 2011. She is also a practicing attorney-mediator and avid open water swimmer. The Pull of Gravity is her debut novel. You may learn more about her here: http://gaepolisner.com
*this essay was written with the generous assistance of Paul W. Hankins.