I Screamed, I Cried, I Threw It Across the Room


I love lists of things and I found another good one this morning. It is “18 Films You’ll Never Watch Again”, courtesy of the folks at movieseum.com. It’s not that the films that make the list are poorly done; they are not. They are by and large wonderfully done, but their subject matter is of the type with which you don’t want to deal, unless you have a half-gallon or so of bleach to pour into your sulci when you’re through. There is plenty to agree with (Bad Lieutenant made the list, as did Sophie’s Choice to name but two) and with which to disagree (The Devil’s Rejects? Are you kidding?!) but the list is worth perusal when you get a moment as it is wide-ranging and lists a few films that even the most ardent film buff might have missed.

So. Where is the list of books that are worthy of being read but, topic-wise, were more than could handle? I imagine that a number of folks would put THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy on that list (the film version had its own entry) because of the dark, unrelentingly grim, subject matter. I would not, even though there are passages in that book which in their entirety haunt me still. No, my entry is PET SEMATARY, by Stephen King, the novel, which, according to King himself, the novelist Tabitha King begged him not to write. I agree with her; while I was reading the book, I screamed, I cried, I through it across the room, I stomped it, and then I finished it. The book concerned two things that I handle: the death of children and the death of pets. That PET SEMATARY deals with those subjects (and I’m not going to tell you how, if you haven’t read the book; no spoilers here, Bucko) would have been bad enough, but then King, God Bless him, takes things a step further with a very subtle, brilliantly conceived and wondrously executed “what would you do” scenario. I know what I would do, in a circumstance similar to that which confronted Louis Creed: I would do exactly what Creed did, even knowing what would happen, on the chance that something different might occur.  And that, my friends, is what I can’t deal with. I have more stories unpublished than otherwise, with mayhem and mortality and violence visited upon the innocent and the guilty alike, but I have never harmed a child or a pet in any of them. It’s someplace I can’t go.

If I may, then: what book did you find fearfully and wonderfully written that you nonetheless refuse to ever read again? Why? What elements of that book for you are the spiders in the shoes at the bottom of the closet, those shoes you won’t wear anymore? And can you write about your fears in your stories, or do you leave them unspoken, so as to rob them of life? 

What would you do?

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Having spent most of the weekend with a sick toddler with stomach flu (thankfully it afflicted only one of the twins – so far at least!) I was reminded once again of how motherhood has changed me. I absolutely hate any kind of stomach ailment but as I comforted my distressed son I found myself wishing that it was me, not him, who was going through it all. As a mum all I want is to take away my children’s pain. I feel a ferocious sense of protectiveness that has never extended to anyone else. I certainly empathize when my husband is sick, but do I wish it was me instead? Not on your life. When it comes to children though – there is no limit to what I would do.

I haven’t ever explored this in my writing but as a reader I have found a renewed appreciation for books such as Sophie’s Choice. When I first read this I was horrified and saddened but I had no real point of reference. The decision, unimaginably awful as it was, remained an abstraction. Now I’m not sure I could re-read the book, I would feel so such a visceral reaction to the decision that Shopie had to make. How could a mother decide which of her children would be saved?

The power of fiction for me is how character’s decisions – their guilt and torment – resonate with readers. I have found that since becoming a mum there are certain things that resonate now that never fully resonated before. It may sound obvious but I think this fact alone has made me realize how as a reader my experiences have changed the reading experience as well as the craft of writing. I don’t think now I could face writing about crimes against children – for the horror of such things now affects me in a way it never did before. I could, however, imagine a parent (and I’m not just limiting myself here to women) doing almost unimaginable things to protect their children. The question for me is not what would a parent resort to in such-and-such a circumstance but what would they not do.

If a visceral response to a character’s choice and actions is so dependent on a reader’s own life experiences, I wonder how, as a writer my work will change and grow. Will there ever come a time when I can dispassionately write about things that, as a mother, I now find impossible to even contemplate? I certainly would have no problem writing about a mother who would totally kick-ass to protect her children. Sarah Connor would have nothing on what I could imagine doing.

What books have resonated with you based on your own experiences? What issues provoke such a visceral response that you too feel like you would take up the Sarah Connor mantle?