Bill Gordon Recommends

I wholeheartedly recommend Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, also known as The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, published in 1722 and widely considered to be one of the first English-language novels (Defoe himself, some say, being the father of the novel form). When I first came to the book, I was halfway through drafting my own first novel, Mary After All – the story of a Jersey City woman who comes of age during the turbulent 1970s and discovers her own route to independence along the way – and it certainly made quite an impression on me: both as a reader and as a writer. So many things seemed more possible – not the least of which was the idea that you could, as a man, convincingly tell a story from a woman’s perspective, and in that woman’s voice. (Worth noting is the fact that Defoe wrote Moll Flanders under a pseudonym so that his readers would believe it was the actual journal of a bawdy, adventurous woman in the eighteenth century.) There was also, in those pages, validation of the concept that by creating a full-blown, closely-examined character who is chock full of flaws and fully revealing of them… who is driven by decisions, sometimes awful but always explained, that make sense at the time – in Moll’s case she is, by turns, a good wife, a hooker, a pickpocket, a convict and a “reformed” bad mother of sorts – you could make the reader like your heroine even more. I surely did! I also shared in her joys and sorrows and successes more completely, I think, because none of her many “warts” were hidden. My own narrator, Mary, leads a rather quotidian existence compared to Moll – although she does have a stint as a bookie and kicks the woman who slept with her husband down the stairs. But in Moll Flanders there was the refreshing concept, clear in its early pages, that fairly ordinary details – personal finances, daily routines and decisions – could be fascinating – not just interesting — if the conveyance was intimate and accurate enough. And in that intimacy grew drama. Drama that could build and be felt by the reader with each move and plot twist, no matter how large or small, because you were there *with* her. And nearly four hundred years after the initial publication of Moll Flanders… you still are.

Bill Gordon‘s work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Mississippi Review, New York Press, Christopher Street, and Downtown. He received an MFA from Columbia University. He grew up in Jersey City and now lives in New York. Mary After All is his first novel.