Saturday, August 24, 2013

“Into the middle of things” an essay on writing by Gila Green

My debut novel, King of the Class, is divided into two sections. In the first half, readers meet Eve Vee, a twenty-something, university student from Canada, who wakes up one day on an Israeli kibbutz in the year 2018 to find her South African fiancé Manny Meretzky missing.

This part of the novel continues in chronological order for one year as the couple struggles with religious differences against the backdrop of a post-civil war Israel that’s divided against itself into two states: one radically religious, the other radically secular.

In the second half of the novel we jump ahead by more than a decade. I don’t want to give anything away, but since the release of King of the Class in April 2013, I have received many emails from readers who are curious to know what happened in the twelve years skipped over in the novel.

I could probably write a new novel purely based on those “missing” twelve years. But are they missing? Not as far as I’m concerned.

Why do writers use in media res (Latin for “into the middle of things”), and is it fair to the reader?  There is nothing new about this narrative technique, which we find in everything from Homer’s Odyssey to films, poetry and plays. In media res allows the audience to jump into a story right in the middle of the action. It is neither a frame nor a story within a story nor a self-contained story.

When I wrote King of the Class, I wrote the first half of Part Two first. That was the story I so much wanted to share with readers – the story of a boy who was so misunderstood in the school system that other parents were prepared to symbolically murder him. I concretized this murder with a kidnapping.

I didn’t make up this symbolism, just took it an extra step. Judaism considers embarrassing someone in public a symbolic murder; the redness that flushes the cheeks of the victim, reminiscent of spilled blood.

As a mother of five children I’d spent the last couple of years in an Israeli school system where I’d watched helplessly as too many such symbolic murders occurred. Ironically, most of the people murdering the kids with embarrassment were well-meaning parents.

This is not to single out the Israeli school system. No doubt children worldwide are subject to embarrassment, abuse and humiliation because they are misunderstood. When I sat down to write my novel, this was this situation I was initially protesting.

After fifty or so pages, I realized readers could not possibly understand the depths of Eve’s pain and connection to her son, Netsach, if they had no knowledge of how she came to marry Manny Meretzky. I abandoned my simple kidnapping story and wrote Part One of my novel.
Only after Part One was complete did I go back and finish Part Two, struggling to find justice for the reader, for Netsach, for Eve and Manny and for myself as both a writer and mother.

To devote time to the interim years was not the heart of the story. After all, you cannot be a king of the class in nursery school and even in kindergarten it’s more of a joke than anything else. The label may nip at the heels of a young child, but only grows long fangs around the middle of primary school when, Netsach, the boy at the centre of my novel has the label “king of the class” bestowed on him.  

The result is a novel that makes extensive use of in media res. I very much wanted readers to jump into the kidnapping with both feet, to taste a little bit of what’s it’s like not only to be the king of the class, but to give birth to one.

Gila Green comes from Ottawa but now lives in Israel She published her first novel, King of the Class (Now or Never Publishing) in 2013. Her short stories have received seven international nominations and two fellowships, and her collection, White Zion, was nominated for the Doris Bakwin Literary Award. Please visit her at

For information about submitting to Now or Never, see here

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