Monday, June 11, 2012

SM Johnson ~Bloody Monday~ Too scary to read

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Good morning, happy Bloody Monday to you, my darlings.

So just for shits and giggles, and as a salute to dark fiction, I am going to tell you about the most recent book I could not read. Actually, assuming I write this fast, I will tell you about a couple of books I could not read, and a couple of authors who scared the bejeezus out of me so badly that I stopped attempting to read them altogether.

These aren't bad books or bad writers. These are amazing writers. These are characters and stories that  leap off the page and are so real that I experience anxiety and terror.

Now that's something isn't it?

Violence, torture, blood, and gore don't really do it for me, which probably sounds strange coming from a vampire writer. So I say this, right out loud, in fact, and then in the same sentence tell you that I love me a good John Sandford novel (featuring serial killers), Patricia Cornwall mystery (forensic medical examiner), Anita Blake adventure (vampire hunter and animator of zombies). I certainly read more than a fair share in the horror genre.

And yet... I can't watch bloody, gory stuff on TV at all. I find The Tudors very disturbing, as well as King of Thrones. Even Dexter gives me enough anxiety to makes me leave the room sometimes, although I avidly watched the first couple-three seasons. Television is so vividly in color that it's difficult to skim past the yucky parts.
Image from Amazon

But, as I am so often guilty of, I do digress.

Here is the last book I had to put down because it was just too scary: Lisa Gardner's Say Goodbye. It was just plain too scary. I found myself staring at it, lying in wait for me on the kitchen table, and the sight filled me with cold dread from stomach to toes, as if  the book was daring me to torture myself, daring me to risk my ability to fall asleep easily, challenging my psyche not to have nightmares.

I have read other books by Lisa Gardner. Her ability to weave a story with characters you care about is amazing. That's part of why some of them terrify me utterly.

There have only been handful of books that I could not read because they were just too damn scary.

I must read in black and white, because I can read through icky stuff in books that I cannot watch on television.

I had to quit John Saul cold turkey. Again, a terrific writer, unafraid to go deep into the dark recesses of psychological horror, deeper and darker than almost anyone else dares to tread. Suffer the Children, which I was probably MUCH too young too read - gave me nightmares for weeks. In fact, once the nightmares stopped, all it would take for them to visit me again was the sight of his name on a book.

I was involved in a great writers group way, way back. At one point we formed a sub-group, and planned a teacher-led analysis of how to build tension in writing. Our textbook was Dean Koontz's book Intensity.

Definitely a book worthy of examination.

We were supposed to read the first two chapters by such-and-such a date. Mm-hmm. I read the whole damn book in one sitting. I felt slightly guilty about this, but I couldn't stop.

Now that's tension.

I was really looking forward to the instructor tearing this book down to words and sentences and pacing.

The day of our first "class" arrived. I anxiously awaited the first email.

The email I received was something of a disappointment. It said, in its roundabout way, that the instructor found Intensity too frightening to read, and therefore decided to make an alternative suggestion.

Man, I was totally pissed. And the alternative selection was a book by a famous author whose work just wasn't to my taste.

Besides, I thought the instructor really wussed out and let us all down.

Of course, since that time I've come to understand - some authors write so powerfully that not everyone can bear to read them. It's happened to me.

If you feel like commenting, I'd love to hear if you've ever given up on a book or a writer in your favored genre because they were just too damn _________. (fill in the blank).


  1. For me, I think it's more about how completely dark and/or hopeless a book "feels" to me when I read it. I can deal with horror that's more of a traditional play of light vs. dark, where there is some contrast...Stephen King does this really well, I think, even when I find it scary, there's always heart and humanity woven in there somewhere. What I can't generally deal with are books that take me into some kind of dark, ugly pit and/or view of humanity without any breathing room or contrast at all. Those "all human beings suck" kind of books, (not all of those are horror, btw. There is a subgenre of literary fiction that seems to think this makes books more "real" somehow...sigh). The Painted Bird is kind of like this, by Jerzy KosiƄski. I've found that in reality, no matter how dark the scenario, there are always rays of person who tried to help or did the right thing, or some small gesture of compassion or humanity, etc. In fiction, you can strip a world of this, if you so desire. Personally, I find those books tough. I don't like hanging out in places like that...just a preference thing. So for me, it's less whether something is scary to me and more what the overall vibe or message is of a book.

  2. Aw, man, if a book is too dark in a way that is hopeless, I can't even finish it. I've read some family dramas that just kind of end letting the reader know that the agony continues. No thanks. I don't want to read about someone's plain and depressing life - not unless there's some hope of redemption.