Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Creationism's Ugly Twin Brother, Art

There are spoilers in here, and one ungentlemanly word. Just be ready.

I've recently fallen into a string of gritty, realistic, DEPRESSING AS HELL movies and books and so far, have not been able to wind my way away from their grip. Possibly, and I'm just guessing here, because they are EVERYWHERE. And the fact that something has to make you feel terrible in order for it to be good modern art any more isn't even my point here, though it is a pretty good point.

My true point came to me as I closed my most recent literary venture, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, and gaped into empty space for about ten minutes. Because that's how that book made me feel.

No other phrase describes it better than "a total fucking bummer."

The book spans around twenty-five years and between the four narrators there is not one light or happy moment. Not one joke, not one smile, not even a metaphor with a hint of positivity. The best thing that happens in the whole book is when one of the characters has a massive heart attack and the two families are awkwardly brought together. Even the character who supposedly has a happy, stable life can't focus on it long enough to narrate anything but gloom. No one reacts, no one lashes out, no one does ANYTHING but sit and wallow. For Twenty. Five. Years.

And that sucks, because it could have been such an engaging, moving, involved story. But it's not. Because it's so depressing I could only see the words in monotone. Grey. Fog.

And then it just ends. There is something like closure, definitely a mark in all their lives to signify that THIS PART OF YOUR LIFE IS OVER.

But the point at which the story ended really could have been the point at which it began, because THAT was engaging. The part where the families come together and have to face 25 years of separation: the boy has to meet and get to know his twin sister with Downs Syndrome, and the mother has to come to terms with the fact that the baby she thought died was actually shuttled away in the night because it was the 1960s and her doctor husband had personal issues. Now that is interesting. So much more interesting than 25 years of everyone being depressed for the same reason and doing nothing about it.

Stories need verbs. What is the point of telling a story, especially a fictional story, if it has no drive? How can the readers take anything away with them when the characters have no arc, no growth? How could a writer bring characters into the world who are stagnant, drowning, and leave them there? What right do we as creators have to put more people in the world who are powerless in their own lives and make the choice (because, at least in this story, they all make that choice) to continue living that way? And then what right have we to expect others to eat that story, chew it up and swallow it, and keep it down?

It just seems hateful.

3 comments:

Ozkirbas said...

Brittany vs. The Memory Keeper's Daughter

http://www.explosm.net/movies/151/

B.Graham said...

fabulous!

nevie said...

not that i'm a huge fan of this philosophy, but...

"What right do we as creators have to put more people in the world who are powerless in their own lives and make the choice (because, at least in this story, they all make that choice) to continue living that way?"

if art acts as a commentary on the world, wouldn't this be appropriate considering the largely apathetic and cynical society we live in? how many of us feel completely powerless in our own lives even before we read memory keeper's daughter?

the creators aren't advocating this lifestyle, necessarily. instead, whatever their personal intention, they're pointing it out as you have demonstrated, to make their audience reconsider behaving as such before you have the same ending.