Friday, January 05, 2007

To Make Sense of it All?

Life is like a blanket too short. You pull it up and your toes rebel, you yank it down and shivers meander about your shoulder; but cheerful folks manage to draw their knees up and pass a very comfortable night. ~ Marion Howard

I got conflicting responses yesterday to my post regarding depressing stories vs. uplifting ones. I didn't expect differently, to be honest, because those depressing stories are still written, read and "enjoyed", so clearly someone must be doing the writing, reading and enjoying!

Allie reminded me of some good classics (I liked "To Kill a Mockingbird" a lot and forgot that!) and Charity threw a quote at me from my fave author, Jenny Crusie (which makes me sit up and listen):

Then Bob says, the more negative the Intent/Theme, the harder it is to keep readers. I don’t agree. So you write a book in which love doesn’t conquer all, big deal. Some readers don’t like happy endings, they want their catharsis through tragedy. What matters is that your negative or tragic intent have meaning.
I suppose I agree with this, in part. It's probably why I love the movie "Beaches" and my favorite episode of "M*A*S*H" was the finale "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" even though it made me ball like a baby when I saw it (and, just to date myself, I watched it on its first run in prime time -- I was reminded of it recently when TV Land ran the episode... and it still makes me cry).


The crying that I did wasn't so much from sadness, though it's certainly sad with whatserface dies in Beaches. It was from something different that I don't think I can put a name on... so maybe "catharsis" would work best.

The stories, movies, etc. that I hate are when something happens (like in a book my mother just read) where the heroine spends the entire book getting over the death of her husband by cultivating a new relationship, and then at the end of the book the guy says (and I'm paraphrasing), "Well, I'm glad you're all better, but I've decided I want to marry Elizabeth instead."

Charity also said:

And if an ending is sad or tragic, it doesn't mean it is necessarily depressing. The news is depressing because a lot of the time, it's hard if not impossible to find meaning in some things that go on.

That's why some people want to read/write sadder books--to make sense of it all, to give it meaning.
This is probably why I enjoy TV shows like "Criminal Minds"... that and the fact that they always save the person at the end (my HEA). But this show in particular helps the viewer understand the "why" of the crimes and not just the "who".

"Where the Red Fern Grows" SUCKED. That was NOT catharsis, it was tragedy. I found little meaning in this. Same goes with some other classic youth literature like "The Yearling" and "Old Yeller". HATED THEM.

I also detest "Romeo and Juliet" and thought they were both absolute idiots who blew their chance at a HEA. Good prose, though, much of which I have memorized because of a ninth grade English teacher. But the story? Ugh.

"Of Mice and Men"? Puh-leez.... (though I really pretty much hate all Steinbeck)

I suppose, though, that Mary summed my own opinion up best when she shared hers:

That's exactly why i read romance! I am not so much into the light and fluffy, but I love the security of knowing it will all come out.
I need a REAL happy ending, not a lame one where it "might" work out, or "maybe" he'll come back.

Life is uncertain, scary, ugly, and unkind. Every day I read about death, abuse, kidnapping; I hear ugly words; I see litter, graffiti, need, anger and inconsideration.

I have to live in this world where the negative stuff is thrown in our faces no matter where we turn. So, when I try to escape it -- whether through books or movies or television, I demand something that makes me feel good.

That's why it's called "escape".



I just finished reading the Jenny Crusie comment that Charity referred to (or to which Charity referred -- reminds me of a scene in "Designing Women" where they were at a fancy to-do and one of them asked a snobby lady, "Where y'all from?" and the lady replied, "I'm from where we don't end our sentences with a preposition." to which the character replied, "Where y'all from, bitch?" LOLOLOL...)

But I digress.

The end of that Jenny Crusie quote was exactly the point I was trying to make. She says:

When I was in workshops in grad school, I read one literary short story after another that ended hopelessly because “the world is like that.” No, it isn’t, especially it isn’t for a lot of grad assistants who were getting a full ride on their tuition plus a stipend. We were the luckiest people in the world, where were they getting this “Life is hopeless” garbage? Their unhappy endings didn’t mean anything, they were just depresssing so the writers could look Deep.
Yes. That's what I meant to say.

1 comment:

anno said...

Somewhere, someone once said that intellectuals like comedy and romantics prefer tragedy. FWIW, I like funny books with happy endings... mostly. Except when I'm reading anything by Anita Shreve or Ann Patchett or other authors I'm not awake enough yet to remember.

I just finished reading Janet Fitch's Paint It Black--not a perfect story, but amazing writing--where the themes were really dark and the characters were fierce, but somehow you still kept hoping for the protaganist.

What I hate are stories where the tragedy is so inevitable you are practically shouting advice at the characters. For me, that's anything by Andre Dubus, Anna Karenina. Map of the World was like that, too, but I coudn't stop reading it, so I guess I'm not consistent.

We see plenty of examples of failure and tragedy. Sometimes it's harder to know what is worth working toward -- why not make something that inspires us, that makes us feel, 'yeah, that's what I want!' Sometimes we could all use a little hope.