Today, I’m psychoanalyzing myself about one of my favorite, oddly specific literary tropes: the little-known microcosm. I love stories that reveal weird, highly structured worlds and cultures that spring up around certain activities.
Take, for example, my current loan from my school library, The Card Turner by Louis Sachar, author of Holes (which, incidentally, is also a perfect example, maybe even a better one than the one I’m about to describe.) The Card Turner is about a teenage boy who finds employment as card turner for his blind great uncle, a Life Master in the card game bridge. He attends a bridge club filled with regulars, and is intrigued by the complex written and unwritten rules of the game, the fast-flying and inscrutable lingo, and the suggestions of scandalous past bridge-related happenings.
Another of my favorite examples is What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, which is partly about a committee that meets in the upstairs room of a small restaurant over a period of several weeks with the task of assembling an expansive model of their town for some sort of community exhibition. They develop rhythms of working together to match up little houses, buildings, and pieces of landscaping to their corresponding slots in the base.
There’s no hard-and-fast definition of the phenomenon I’m talking about, but you feel it when you read it: people coming together to do something unlikely and unusual, and sharing a culture because of it that no one outside would understand or even know was there. And I rarely read a novel with this quality that doesn’t fascinate me, and stick in my memory long after the last page.
Why is that?
I think maybe this type of thing fits with the way my brain works. I’m the kind of person who has an elaborate internal ritual surrounding the front doors of my school every day: is that person behind me close enough that I should hold the door for them? Look at them in the reflection so you don’t trap yourself by making obvious eye contact. Is this a case for holding it as I enter so they can come along behind me, or a full hold it open, let them go first deal? I create complex sociologies in everything I encounter. So when I see my overanalysis of the mundane echoed outside of my head, my brain is thrilled to have found its kin.
Furthermore, reading is all about being invited into a new world— and how cool is it to be a visitor in a tiny community whose existence would otherwise have never even occurred to you?
Does anyone get what I’m talking about? Any time you read something with a microcosm aspect, let me know about it, because I’ll need little other reason to give it a chance.