Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Misery Lit - I'm done with it...kinda

Misery lit. For a while there it was all the rage. Every book store had a display of the latest tale of real life horror the authors had suffered at the hands of the ones they love. Be it sexual or physical abuse, girls forced into marriages barely into puberty or possibly the scariest of all, a young boy forced to have a lobotomy because his stepmother suffered Munchausen-by-proxy.

All pretty stark and frightening stuff and I admit I was a big fan of this genre for a while there. It made me so grateful for my own normal, loving upbringing and made me admire tremendously those who suffered such terrible fates and overcame them. Triumph of the human spirit and all that stuff.

But after a time, that despair all began to blur into one. I would finish one of these types of books and not always be able to recall details from them – the agonies started to became “samey” – and isn’t that a terrible reflection to make?

Possibly worse still, I would find myself reading a particular sad anecdote and think “So what, 'Person A' had it so much worse in such-and-such a book.”

And that’s when I knew it was time to stop reading misery lit. When my compassion compass was so desensitised I made the stories compete on a wretchedness scale in my headspace.

That said, there is one misery-lit author who I break my self imposed rule for – Cathy Glass. Cathy has been a foster carer for over 20 years, during which time she has looked after more than 50 children, of all ages and backgrounds as well as raising her own kids. Her books are about the children she has fostered, often with the most heartbreaking stories of abuse. Cathy is fearless in telling it like it is to be a fosterer, including the highs and the hells - nothing is sugar coated but everything is handled sensitively and with compassion. She’s not trying to shock or scaremonger, Cathy is simply telling the stories of the children in her care. Stories we need to hear to see beyond our own happy worlds where such brutalities are unimaginable.

So while my misery-lit days are generally done, I still *look forward* (as much as one can given the subject matter) to the latest Cathy Glass book to hit the bookstands. And in an odd way I’m thankful she is so prolific (she has four books in print so far with at least two more to come in the next two years) because it means I have good books to look forward to, but the flip side is, it means more children are suffering.


a cat of impossible colour said...

When I worked in the bookstore there was almost a whole shelf devoted to tales of sexual abuse survivors. I wasn't really interested in reading them, but I flicked through a couple when I was cleaning the shelves (as I did with all the books - I didn't spend much time actually cleaning!). There were some very graphic accounts of the precise sexual acts that were forced on the narrator. Horrifying, but so detailed that I wondered if some people read these books to be titillated rather than to engage their empathy glands? Which is a rather disturbing thought. Such lengthy and precise descriptions of the sexual side of things seemed gratuitous, and perhaps designed to appeal to people's darker sides.

Café Chick said...

Misery lit - I didn't realise it was an actual term! Looking back through my reading list, I guess I have immersed myself in several examples over the years, but none in recent times. I don't know whether I've just become desensitised to other people's misfortune, or I've become more savvy about authors who write with just the right amount of sympathy to appeal to a certain audience. Looks like I should check out Cathy Glass, then.