Talent seems to flow through families. Bach's sons became important composers in their own right, and one, Johann Christian, was considered by Mozart to be one of his musical fathers. Twice Nobel laureate Marie Curie was the mother of Irene Joliot-Curie, who herself won the Nobel in chemistry in 1935. Philosopher and novelist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the then revolutionary A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was mother to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who explored the nature of humanity in her still popular Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. Some children have carried on what their parents had established: Jeff Shaara has skillfully continued what his father Michael began in the Civil War historical novel, Killer Angels, and son Brian Herbert continues Frank Herbert's science fiction epic of Dune. Dick Francis' son Felix inherited his father's tradition of mysteries involving English horse racing and continues to write what he calls "Dick Francis" novels. In all of these, we see the parent's work flowing through the child's and often progressing into new dimensions and possibilities.
In other cases, however, children of famous parents have gone their own way while displaying the craft inherited from their parents.
The accompanying review of Dirty Love reminds us that Andre Dubus III's father was also an award-winning writer, especially of short stories and essays, but Andre II's writing is pervaded both by his deep commitment to his Catholic heritage and by his coming to terms with the car accident in 1986 which confined him to a wheelchair for the last 13 years of his life. Andre III sees himself as a wandering agnostic who still has 'intimations of immortality' but is not allied to any particular religious path:
I believe in the divine. I believe in mysteries...I believe Jesus was a beautiful man... But I don't believe in some big boss up there, and I don't think I'm going to hell - or heaven either. My religion's the writing process.
Dirty Love, like House of Sand and Fog, plays out in a world that often seems absurd, without final purpose, and certainly not in the hands of a compassionate god.
Alexandre Dumas pere wrote adventure stories like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, stories meant to entertain while still examining the corruption of power and the power of integrity. His son, Alexandre Dumas fils, wrote more intimate stories, especially about morality and about the lives of tragic women - many of his plays such as Le Fils Naturel (The Illegitimate Son, 1858) are grounded in the struggle with his own illegitimacy - even though Alexandre pere later adopted him. His early novel and play, Camile (The Lady of the Camellias, 1848) became the basis for one of Giuseppe Verdi's most popular operas, La Traviata (1853). So both father and son remain in the canon of great literature but for quite dissimilar bodies of work.
Mary Higgins Clark has been writing thrillers and suspense novels since 1968. Her daughter Carol Higgins Clark began writing her own novels in 1992 and has definitely displayed a different voice from her mother. Although they are able to collaborate seamlessly - in 2000, they began co-authoring a series of Christmas mysteries which are collages of each woman's particular point of view and abilities. Carol's Regan Reilly books would be classified as 'cozies' by mystery fans, and she displays a sense of humor in plot and character development not found in her mother's books. So again, the craft passes on but flows through different channels.
Ben Jonson wrote: "Greatness of name in the father oft-times helps not forth, but overwhelms the son; they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth." This has proved prescient in the careers of many children of famous author parents. Stephen King's son, Joe Hill, has not yet proved himself a craftsman comparable to his father, and John Updike's son, David, who has written some well-received children's books, is simply a different sort of writer than his father. However, as they develop their own voices, they will likely emerge as respected artists in their own right.
Andre Dubus III remarked that when he's asked "Do you think I have talent?" he replies that "sometimes, it's actually difficult to tell, especially since so much good writing comes from hard work, talent or not." Ultimately, though genetics may play a part, talent like genius comes to an individual alone and, even then, requires dedication to one's art to reach any real fruition.
First image: Mary Wollstonecraft
Second image: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Third image: Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark from The LA Times
Fourth image: Stephen King and Joe Hill from First Showing
This article was originally published in October 2013, and has been updated for the
June 2014 paperback release.
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