By Christina Lay
If I don’t update my Netflix queue regularly, strange things appear in my mailbox. Movies I picked out long ago, shows another person in another time thought sounded like a good idea, arrive and sit on my coffee table for weeks before being returned unwatched. Last week I was surprised to receive a collection of Classic Looney Tunes. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Bugs and Daffy, but I have a hard time imagining myself taking time out to sit and watch cartoons.
I selected the Looney Tunes disc, along with a lot of Disney movies and the entire bazillion episodes of Hercule Poirot about four years ago. This was during a time in my life when I was subsisting on cuddly comfort entertainment, when The Number One Ladies Detective Agency was the most violent show I could stand to watch. This tempering of my habits was a result of the unexpected, violent death of my partner. I couldn’t handle even a whiff of violence in videos or books and frankly, never thought I would again. Not terribly surprising, the well of conflict that feeds my writing dried up too.
Thanks to the change of seasons I’d already been thinking about our possibly demented cultural shift toward the enjoyment of fake blood, fangs, zombie masks and hallways dripping with cobwebs, when along came Bugs, inspiring me to turn a bit more inward while investigating this mood for monsters.
Enter October, the arrival of longer nights, brighter moons, slantier sunlight and paper skeletons hung with malicious glee. Yes, it’s the time of withdrawal, nesting, isolating, frightening impressionable children and hunkering in the cave of our imaginations. I can’t help but wonder what happens within myself when I set aside Agatha Christie and instead reach for an apocalyptic monster mash- for instance, The Passage by Justin Cronin.
I’m not normally a huge fan of throat-ripping undead monsters, but for whatever reason that book rocked my world. It came to me in the depths of my Disney Addiction, in a winter when I was doing chemical battle with my old friend depression and working hard to repress a new friend, PTSD. For whatever reason I picked up this brutal apocalyptic vampire tome and was absolutely mesmerized. I literally couldn’t put the damn thing down and worried so much about the fate of the characters that nightly I wrote threatening letters to the author (in my mind), anticipating severe mental anguish if he let me down.
Best. Apocalyptic. Monster. Vampire. Book. Ever! I raved to bemused friends. I poured over the structure to analyze how he manipulated my emotions so effectively. I began to write again. I don’t entirely credit The Passage. There were other books, dangerous, compelling books that filled me with anxiety and woke up the part of me that wanted to worry, intensely and deeply.
Recently I picked up The Twelve, the sequel to the Passage, and eagerly settled in for another rollercoaster ride of monster mayhem.
And settled. And . . . queued up all three seasons of Veronica Mars. I didn’t finish the damn book.
I still think Justin Cronin is an awesome writer. His world building and story crafting are impressive. Nevertheless, I wasn’t engaged enough to spend any more time or pages embedded in the dark and twisted minds of serial killers turned über vampire overlords. I know, weird.
Nothing generates reviews quite like a failure of expectations. A review is what this blog started out to be – I had a long mental list of everything Cronin did wrong this time around. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the second book was every bit as good as the first, and it was I, the reader, who’d changed. Bugs Bunny arrived to stare at me accusingly. I decided looking at my reaction to the book might be more interesting than picking the book apart.
Fact is, my mood as a consumer of entertainment has changed dramatically since I read The Passage. That particular end-of-the-world world just doesn’t appeal to me. Whatever I needed three years ago is no longer in affect.
Horror served its purpose. It allowed me to process real horror within the safe pages of a fierce fantasy. A fantasy that tore aside all pretense of civilization and laid bare the worst nightmares. It reawakened the part of my mind fascinated with conflict, people under pressure and what evil lurks in realm beyond reason. How is this a good thing, I wonder? I really don’t know. I certainly wasn’t having erudite thoughts about the value of super-vampires unleashed in the mind of a depressive PTSD writer while I read The Passage, and I’m still not sure why our society goes monster crazy in October. All I know is, thank goodness they are there for us, waiting in the shadows when we’re ready to join them.