I had a coworker ask me yesterday what my book’s about, so I whipped out the ol’ elevator pitch. When I was done, she said, “Makes me think of Cain and Abel.” This made me dumbstruck for a little while since a) it made sense and b) I hadn’t thought of it before. After thirteen years of Catholic school, actually reading the entire Bible, having numerous conversations about Christianity with my non-Christian fiancée, how could I overlook the connection to a Bible story just about anyone in the world can reference? Coincidence is filled with religious symbolism, but I missed that one?
Well, maybe because the connection’s not there. Both tales are about brothers (of sorts, in Coincidence’s case) and….nothing. The more I think about Cain and his victim, the less sense the reference makes. The story requires three elements, for one thing: Person A and Person B are sacrificing to Person C, and one’s gift is praised more than the other. A kills B. Now, up to this point, you only really need the two elements. A has jealousy and rage issues. But it’s when C comes along and asks, “Hey, where’d the other go?” that things get interesting. Now A says, “I dunno. How is that my responsibility?” and bam! You get the layers.
Now A is jealous, violently passionate, and callous to his own actions. But at the same time, there’s the undercurrent of perception, assumptions, whatever you want to call it. Person C isn’t just asking “Where’s B?” but really “My perception is that you two are close and you should know where B is. I also trust that you’ll answer my question. You were sacrificing your work to me anyway, so there must be a level of trust there. So where’s B?” Add to the equation the Bible factors (namely God) and you have an omniscient being asking this question. So it’s not even a desire to know the factual answer, just to see Person B’s response.
Daniel Quinn believes (and I partially agree) the whole story’s an allegory anyhow, a tale of farmers versus herders and a kind of warning of things to come from the herders’ point of view. Person C in this instance would probably be life and/or culture itself since the other two are working on designing / improving life-sustaining methods. But that seems like a bit of a stretch. “Life” as I’m using it here doesn’t have a POV, and it’s really the third POV that makes the whole setup work.
Regardless, take this as an example of an elevator pitch and how it can go horribly awry. The question is whether it’s the pitch that caused the problem or the receiver of said pitch. Oh, existentialism, you old dog.