Sometimes I wonder if there is danger in reading things I feel such a simpatico relationship with.
I discovered Raymond Carver’s short stories through the Robert Altman film Short Cuts. There is something so appealingly spare and non-fantastic about Carver’s stories that I find them very easy to sink into. His characters live through mundane but profound experiences that are so far away from the usual fantasy, sci-fi, and historical that I’m attracted to. Though the tales deal with relationships and feelings between characters, there is an overlaying emotional detachment that I find appealing.
Despite my interest in Carver’s work, reading his short stories doesn’t lift my spirits. Instead I find myself simmering in melancholy, flopping around in a pool of muddy feeling. I wouldn’t call the writing a downer, but a sort of satisfying status quo romp when all I want to do is have a silent tantrum within my own downed emotions. There is fulfillment in Carver stories, but also an edge of danger. Heck, maybe that even ups the appeal.
On a college break I started reading Sylvia Plath’s diaries, and I had to stop reading them because they were making me crazy. I’ve abandoned many books in the past, so it’s not like setting aside her diaries was anything revolutionary, but her ramblings struck such a chord with me that I began to feel myself slip into her despair.
The other month when playing a game I said I’d come back reincarnated as Sylvia Plath – what a terrible answer! In retrospect I wish I’d said Margaret Sanger or Eleanor Roosevelt, but my first thought was Plath, mostly based on how I became so entwined with the spirit in her diaries. I want to go back and finish them, but I think I need to make sure I’m in a mentally good place in life first.
I’m not really sure where I was going with this, other than to say that there is both a pleasure and a danger to books. I usually think of writing as an antidote to ailments, so it’s an inversion of my usual mode of thought to mark good writing as something akin to handling rattlesnakes. I guess there is a thrill in risking a bite. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes (from a tea bag tag):
“Books have the same enemies as people: fire, humidity, animals, weather, and their own content.” – Paul Valery (1871-1945)
I’ve always felt the pull of Raymond Carver’s working class characters dealing with complicated emotions in a mundane world. There is some controversy surrounding those stories; evidently Carver’s editor had more to do with Carver’s signature sparse style than Carver himself. Although many of his stories, while instructive, are “downers,” some of his later in life work has a strong sense of hope or wonder about it, especially visible in the story “Cathedral.”
I’ve yet to undertake any reading of Plath’s poetry, it all seems so very complicated and personal! I’ve read The Bell Jar and a couple of novels that were fictionalized accounts of her life. You may want to look into those. Thanks for a great post! Haven’t thought about those authors in a while.
Thanks for the comment! I know I read “Cathedral” a few years back – I think I’m going to have to go and do another read of it with your comments in mind.