How Dark Is Too Dark? A Personal Observation

I am so running behind this week, so I’m ripping off my newsletter article for my own blog.  I have copyright.  Stop looking at me…if you’d sign up for the newsletter, I’d feel so embarrassed about putting the same stuff in two different places that I’d never do it again.  Really.

Okay, not really.

So my husband Lee made me watch a couple of above-average movies over the last couple of weeks:  “The Great Magician” (2011), a Chinese movie about a very cool magician.  This is a great, boyish movie:  you can just see two little kids coming up with this movie as they play pretend together.  A delightful movie set in 1920s China.  The other one was “Cockneys vs. Zombies” (2012)  This is a movie filled with Very Strong Language and Gore (and accents), for those of you who care about such things, and is best summed by by the phrase “hijinks ensue.”  This wasn’t so much a horror movie as it was a nutty-yet-gory lowbrow movie featuring vivid characters in the vein of “Attack the Block,” “Shaun of the Dead,” or the TV series “Misfits.”

In book news, I recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch and the Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (this is the third and final of The Broken Empire series), but only if you a) enjoy high fantasy and b) are not easily shocked, dismayed, or appalled.  I’m not sure appalled is the word I want but it’s close.  A writer friend of mine ditched Locke Lamora 500 pages into the 700-page book, because she was appalled.  Fair enough.  Mark Lawrence’s book started out by putting Alex from A Clockwork Orange into a fantasy land and devolves from there.  I liked them both well enough to study them from a writer’s perspective, at any rate–not too dark for me.

On the other hand, I had to ditch a couple of books lately, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Jerome Charyn’s The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson. I’m not telling you about these books to warn you off.  Quite the contrary.  They’re both fabulously written, amazing books.  However, they put me in a bad mood whenever I read them, so I decided to stop.  The more I think about books, the more I realize that how you feel as a reader when you read the book is the important thing.  If you want to slog through something because you’re the noble type who finishes everything you start, good for you, but I’ve decided to stop doing it.  Gone Girl made me hate everyone around me and question everyone’s motives, which got annoying very quickly, and The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson made me want to go rescue poor teenaged Emily Dickinson and tell her that her father was a manipulative bully and she ought to run away from home instead of justifying her horrible life by saying that her poetry was enough.  I like poetry well enough but no, actually, it isn’t.

Which raises the question:  Why did I enjoy the first two books and not the second two?  What, pray tell, is too dark?

Good question.  Off the cuff I’d say it must have something to do with finding a core of decency, kindness, and fellowship inside an awful world–as in, the first two books found it, and the second two didn’t.  Gone Girl seemed to be urgently telling me that people are horrible.  All of them.  Everywhere.  Emily wanted me to know that gosh darn it, Miss Dickinson had it hard, and made beautiful poetry while justifying pretty much all the abuse, manipulation, and injustice around her, even as she tried to (pointlessly) rebel against it.  Even though her life was lame, her poetry lives on, hurrah!

I wouldn’t call myself an optimist, but if your message is just “life sucks and then you die (or worse, keep living),” then I’m out.  I don’t need shiny happy bunnies hopping in endless fields to amuse me–but I do need something richer than a steady, bleak despair as a daily reading diet.

But.  All four books were so well-written that I encourage your to form your own opinion and tell me how crackpot mine is, at length.



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1 Comment

  1. Okay, that penultimate paragraph is going in my quote collection.

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