I recently noticed that my books started to become more successful, or perhaps just somewhat better, after they began with the word “The.”  Here are the names of some of my earlier novels:


Hidden Pictures

This Is Your Life

Surrender, Dorothy

And here are the names of my most recent three:

The Wife

The Position

The Ten-Year Nap

And now, my new novel, which is coming out next week, is called The Uncoupling.

None of this was intentional; but what is it about the power of “The?”  I came of age as a fiction writer who was very interested in lyricism, the sound of sentences, the weight of words.  All of these still interest me, but I suspect I used to let myself linger a bit more when I was younger, exploring sentences and scenes in a way that made me feel I was going to live forever, and write forever.  Then I got a little older, and I began to focus on the idea of imperative.  Imperative is the thing that drives you through the book, the thing that takes you from here to there.  It’s the reason for the novel to exist.  When I start to read a book these days, I ask the writer, “Why are you telling me this?”  And if I don’t know the answer after a while, then I might well put the book down.

“The” gives you the feeling (see? “the” feeling; not “a” feeling…) that there’s something forceful behind the enterprise.  That the writer had an idea, and she made a book out of it.  Even if it turns out not to be an idea that works, it was certainly an idea, it was something that she felt was important to begin with.  (Of course, “The” has also been used to promote or describe the worst things possible:  The Clapper.  The Plague.)  And so for me, for the time being, “The” remains my North Star, my guiding principle, my novel-writing mantra.

The End