Authorial Cruelty


After 60+ years of craving fiction, I am finding “imagined” tales tough going. I can’t seem to lose myself in the story. I am too aware of the author pulling the strings: Letting us meet the characters (and like them) right before coldly inserting them into a boiling cauldron filled with nasty, emotionally compromised antagonists. We are forced to watch the characters grapple, flail, suffer, act, transgress, fail, recover, fall again, hurt others, be hurt by others, learn, grow or die.

The cauldron is often a wedding, a funeral, a reunion, a holiday gathering, some chance meeting that turns the protagonist’s life upside down and inside out and pits him or her against family, old friends, old boyfriends, old bosses, old wounds,etc. Maybe the cauldron is the discovery of a body, a terrible accident, or a deadly family secret revealed; the author is pitiless. She gleefully stacks the deck against the “hero.” As the chapters progress, things unravel, relationships fester, the protagonist struggles to make sense of her life. Everyone is stuck, mired, afraid, and no relief is in sight. It irritates me to see how the author plays God with the characters: making them suffer, making them writhe, making them die. After things get increasingly dire, chapter by chapter, the author allows a smidge of light at the end of the tunnel. Things start looking up. If the reader is lucky, the protagonist will learn something, grow as a person, figure out how to relate to others, balm old wounds, or figure out “who done it.” Or maybe, since it’s 2013, the hero will end up alone, demonized, demoralized, damaged, in some dark night of the soul.

And then what happens? The author abandons the characters and goes blithely off to write another work of fiction.

Yes, I know it’s just fiction. It’s made up. It’s imaginary. It’s crazy to resent the destructive power that the author has over the world he or she creates. However, this sixty something now prefers non fiction– biographies, memoirs, autobiographies, history, science, etc. This prose can be raw; it can be sad; it can be terrifying; it can be scandalous; it can be fascinating; it can be nauseating; it can be complicated; it can be devastating; it can be heartbreaking. But it isn’t artificial and there is no deus ex machina of an author pulling the strings and deliberately creating misery for his or her characters.

Categories: wisdom

1 reply

  1. Non-fiction has been my muse. I usually read the fiction books that are a “must.” As you have so aptly written, more often than not they do not withstand my own standard of measurement. Still, there are some darn great fiction works in that haystack. How we find them is the conundrum.

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