I read a lot of books. I read whole books and parts of books. I read
two and three books at a time. Walk around my house and you’re likely
to see a number of them cracked open and waiting for me to pick them up.
Recently I started a reading a new book, but suddenly had to quit. I couldn’t go forward. And I want to tell you why.
What follows is not meant to be a criticism of this particular book.
I haven’t read the whole thing, so how can I possibly criticize? I will
say this, however: the person who wrote it can write. I mean, REALLY
And while what he’s writing would likely be characterized as
melodrama, there is nothing melodramatic about his writing. There is a
certain minimalist grace to his prose that I wish I could manage.
I was immediately swept up by his style, his tone and his story.
And, judging by the critical attention the book has gotten, I’d say
that I’m one of the few who actually stopped reading.
But now to the why.
I don’t want to risk giving anything away, so I’ll be fairly vague
about the storyline. But let me boil it down to its essence — at least
what I know of the story.
It’s about a man who has an affair and how that affair causes his
life to take a sudden and devastating wrong turn. It all hums along at
a good clip, keeping the reader intrigued. They meet, they flirt, they
fall in lust… Then there is an incident about forty or so pages into
the book that is so awful, so invasive, so repellent that I simply had
to put it down.
I can’t describe that incident to you. But let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.
And as I set the book down, telling myself that I didn’t think I’d
continue reading, I had to ask why? (Yes, I’m getting to it.)
Was it because the incident in question was too intense? Too
graphic? No, I don’t think so. I’m not particularly bothered by graphic
scenes and, frankly, as far as graphic goes, my own mind did most of
the work — a sign that I’m dealing with a very good writer.
But here’s the thing: no matter what happens in the rest of the
book, no matter how happy the ending might be, no matter who lives or
dies, who kisses and makes up, who is rescued from evil —
– it’s all too late.
Because once the incident in question happens, nothing any of the
characters might do from that moment forward can change that fact. No
matter how wonderful everything turns out in the end — and I’m assuming
it will — there is nothing the author can do to erase that awful, awful
moment and somehow make it better.
Well, there is ONE thing the author could do. Probably what I would
do, if I were writing the book. A major twist could change everything —
— But I can’t count on that happening.
And because I was so devastated by that one act, that one scene, that
one irrevocable moment, I lost all desire to go forward, even if a major twist will change it all. The damage has been done.
So I have to ask, how far is too far?
While I’d never say we’re obligated as writers to make everything
smiley and happy — quite the opposite if you want to write readable
books — I do think that we take a huge risk when we treat a character
so brutally that the smiley happy moments can’t erase what we’ve done.
As I said, I think the author is a wonderful writer. In fact, I just picked up another of his books.
But that one scene just killed it for me. Maybe I cared too much.
Maybe it’s because the writer has done his job. But it got to me and I
felt sick to my stomach and just didn’t want to go forward.
I won’t name the book here, because I don’t think it would be fair to the author.
But I’m curious to know if any of you have ever had a similar experience, where you felt the author had somehow crossed the line and you just couldn’t read any further?