by Mike Crawmer
There was a time not all that long ago when I would read anything. Now I have trouble finishing books. I seem to have lost my “emotional bearings” in the books I read.
I don’t know if that makes any sense. So let me try to explain.
Exhibit No. 1: A cozy set on an island off the coast of Maine, this cliché-filled book comes complete with the spoiled cat, the struggling B&B owner trying to forget a failed romance, and the numbskull law enforcement officer. There’s lots to keep the reader’s interest early on: The protagonist discovers her cleaning lady’s bloody body in a cranberry bog, argues with her best friend, and wonders why her boyfriend is shunning her. (Well, duh, lady, maybe it’s because he saw you kissing your ex-fiance?!). But, emotionally, it all amounts to nothing--the B&B owner has the emotional depth of a gnat. Any regrets and doubts she has are mere trifles that don’t get in the way of making that next batch of brownies. If I had a working fireplace, that book would be ashes by now.
Exhibit No.2: “The Glass Castle: A Memoir” by Jeannette Walls. Sure, to make it to the bookshelf the modern memoir must take the reader on an emotional house-of-horrors ride featuring outrageous, immature parents who should never have been allowed to make whoopee, weird siblings, criminal cousins, cruel teachers, lecherous priests and perfect recall of 35-year-old conversations. “The Glass Castle” is on another level altogether. Maybe it’s the matter-of-fact way it’s written, but I find the tale so gut-wrenchingly horrific—its emotions so raw and painful—that I have to put it aside and reassure myself that all of life is not so horrid.
So, there’s my dilemma. I refuse to continue plodding through Exhibit No. 1 because its portrayal of the protagonist’s emotions is flat, trite and unbelievable. On the other hand, I can take Exhibit No. 2 only in small doses because the emotions are so robust, explosive, and nighmare-inducing.
Now, I don’t see myself as a wimp with no taste. I grew up reading the Old Testament and Edgar Allan Poe, after all. I devoured “Angela’s Ashes” and was hooked on “The Kite Runner,” some passages of which are truly hair-raising. I wept with Isabel Allende while reading “Paula,” her loving memoir of her daughter’s illness and death.
I think a lot of my angst about this is contained within this line I heard on an NPR program. The commentator said, in essence, that men connect with other men through doing; women connect with other women through talking. Maybe that’s what I need to look for in books: more doing, less talking. Of course, all action, no emotion would get tiresome pretty soon. Someone out there must be writing books with a balance of action, talk, and emotion. Any recommendations, folks?