“Do we live in a world where terrible people go unpunished for their misdeeds? Or do the wicked ultimately suffer for their sins?... ‘I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something…I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen.’”
– Vince Gilligan, TV writer, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, speaking about his AMC series “Breaking Bad”
Lately I’ve had to opine a lot about reincarnation, since it drives the plot of my new novel “JANE WAS HERE.” I have to admit, I don’t know tons on the subject, but karmic justice comes perfectly naturally to many authors. There’s an innate wish, both for writer and reader, that all be balanced in the end. Good is rewarded; evil is punished. So we play Supreme Deity with our characters: we design the story so that certain events are foreordained (by us), and then we follow our characters as they make choices and learn lessons. In the movie business, it’s called a character arc. (Martin Scorcese once commented to a mutual friend, “Arc?! The only character who ever had an arc was Noah!”)
In “JANE WAS HERE” I went a step further. I designed a past life for each main character: a previous incarnation in the 19th century. They were all present at the same time in a small New England town, and they were all complicit in some way in a terrible event that resulted in the disappearance of my heroine, young Jane Pettigrew. And whatever evil they’d done would be atoned for, but in the next incarnation: in our present time, when they would be once more convened in the same town for the reckoning.
It’s one of the more satisfying aspects of belief in reincarnation: that people who profit from evil, and have no comeuppance but instead flourish until their death, are then reborn into a life of suffering – specifically the kind of pain they meted out to others with impunity in their previous lifetime. How cool is that? And they have no idea why they’re suffering. But the Supreme Author knows…