“Writing, painting, singing — it cannot stop everything. Cannot halt death in its tracks. But perhaps it can make the pause between death’s footsteps sound and look and feel beautiful, can make the space of waiting a place where you can linger without as much fear. For we are all walking each other to our deaths, and the journey there between footsteps makes up our lives.” – Cassia Reyes, Reached
Over the holidays, I finished Reached, the last installment of Ally Condie’s dystopian Matched trilogy. This series follows the life of Cassia Reyes, a teenager coming of age in The Society, a government-controlled civilization which makes decisions for all citizens, including their careers, dietary needs, housing assignments, and spouses.
Ally Condie’s vibrate and rich prose, paired with the intricate plot, plays out nicely in this last installment. Throughout the series, Condie takes her time developing the back story of The Society; however, the evolving character of Cassia and her relationships with others provide the overall arc. More than getting sucked into a typical YA love triangle filled with jealousy and charged emotions, Condie instead shows how deep down three people love and trust one another without getting their emotions constantly in the way. In a world where double-crossing comes naturally on both sides, these three: Cassia, Ky (the boy she loves), and Xander (her best friend and “match”) do right by one another. I found this contrast to other YA novels very refreshing.
As Cassia deepens her understanding of Xander, Ky, and even her grandfather (who passed away early in the first novel), she gradually learns more about herself and her place in life. Cassia becomes obsessed with poetry early on, finding pages of banned poetry like “Do Not Go Gentle” by Dylan Thomas and “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. As her obsession to find beautiful language grows, she gradually starts to create her own. Cassia discovers the need for her society to create again, not just preserve the history and artistic relics of the past, but to create new words, art, music. This discovery fills a void in Cassia that The Society tried to stamp out. Cassia learns what The Society feared most:
The artist can never truly die out. Keeping a society healthy is not just about food, shelter, jobs, and medicine. Creating makes “the pause between death’s footsteps sound and look and feel beautiful.”
As I was reading, I kept thinking back to a scene in the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on the book by David McCullough. In this scene, Adams discusses art with the French aristocrats over a meal at Versailles. He says he studied the law and politics so his sons could learn about economics, agriculture, and architecture. His grandchildren would then be able to have the leisure to study art and music. Adams, the pragmatist among French royalty, sees the need for an established civilization in order for artists to thrive. In contrast, Condie shows us how any thriving civilization needs art to remain stable. Trying to control artists or attempting to stop true creativity is a futile pursuit.
Artists cannot help creating. They find a way. Mud and sticks, broken glass, raw vocal talent. Art finds its way into the hearts of those who long to create.
*Affiliate links contained in this post.