Growing up I was raised with the idea that there are some things you don’t want to put into your head.
Specifically some movies or images.
Now, my parents weren’t particularly strict (I saw Jurassic Park in the theater when I was ~8). They just wanted to instill in me from an early age the idea that some things stick with you.
This is not a hard thing to agree with. Anyone who has seen the director’s cut of Requiem For a Dream has had that movie hit them like a sledgehammer to the gut. (It’s an excellent tragedy and one I’ve seen actually about four times because of showing it to other people). You come away changed from media like this, maybe only in the short term, but sometimes for much longer.
And yet as a writer these adjustments can be useful.
Right now I’m working on the second part of being a good writer (reading, the first being writing).
I’ve talked before about using music to set a tone in my head. Sometimes a book is like a good song on the radio, just designed to cheer me up and make me smile. Other times it’s designed to make me think, to consider other ways of constructing narrative, or even directions I can take a story.
I’m reading one such book now The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. I’m actually kind of reading this book by mistake (I had meant to read the first in his Culture science fiction series and ended up reading his first novel instead). The main character of this book has killed three people as a child and is now preparing for a brother who has escaped from an asylum and is heading home for an unknown purpose.
At first glance this book reads like some of the “edgier” YA I had to read in school, things like I Am The Cheese and so forth, but it’s really a good deal cleverer than that. The book sold me with the line “I subtracted Blythe with an adder” (the snake). That combined with a lot of Scottish language and one of the better implementations I’ve seen of both drunk dialog and accent dialog (some together) makes this a book worth reading for me (even if I thought about putting it down many times).
After all the book puts you inside the head of a psychopath. One of the most fascinating parts of the first half of the book has been the slow reveal of how the main character killed each of his (her? this bit’s hard to tell because of some other hints in the story you’ll just have to read to see) victims, and how the character faked the emotions necessary to seem innocent (as a single digit child).
It’s disturbing, and thought provoking, and will probably stay with me for a while. The trick is to figure out how to take disturbing narratives and find the good. And to know when to dive out when you’re not up to it, but also to press on if you’re only feeling a little uneasy.
I’ll definitely be reading more of Banks, hopefully next time on purpose.
Any books like this for you?