I'm tired of "must-read" books that depress the heck out of me.
Families that are breaking apart.
Teenagers who are going through hell.
People in crisis who don't deal with it well.
I know books have to have such characters to create tension, but in many recent bestsellers these are the protagonists; the people I'm supposed to keep reading on for.
Last night I started one of the current must-reads. It's really well-written, and the hook
was excellent. I read on, chapter after chapter. Things got worse for the main character, and as a result, he got worse, acting out, making his family suffer, cutting ties with those who might have helped him get through it. As page after page of humiliation and despair crawled by, I began to feel that I was wallowing in misery, the main character's and that of everyone around him.
Now, I worked with teenagers for decades, and I'm aware that this can happen. I've seen the sad kids who brag about how much they drank last weekend or pretend they don't care that the whole school is gossiping about the disgusting or shocking or self-destructive things they've done.
But reading about such people isn't fun for me. About a third of the way through the book, I realized I was sad, really sad. The kid was ruining his life, and many around him were doing the same. Now it's a tribute to the author's skill that a book can create this mood, but I asked myself: What's enjoyable about this? I closed the book, and I don't think I'll be opening it again.
I'm a mystery fan, and of course mystery is about evil in one form or another. But it seems the modern, literary-fiction-type mystery novel has turned its focus from solving a crime to watching the people involved self-destruct. Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train. The Gold Finch. My Sunshine Away. The list goes on.
The tortured soul isn't new in literature: Crime and Punishment, Jude the Obscure, and Lord of the Flies are examples of great works in which the protagonists spiral downward to destruction. But there's also Great Expectations, The Power of One, Huckleberry Finn, and even Wicked, in which the protags struggle against bitterness instead of wallowing in it for most of the book.
Me? Maybe I've got no class, but I'll take books with a happier slant. I want a protagonist with a little nobility, not one who succumbs to his darkness.