Literature: Family Secrets and Strange Happenings


I avoid posting short lists but these fit together in a way that intrigues and excites me, so I refuse to change it! It’s my blog.  As you may know (or not) I’m in my senior spring semester at university right now, which means I have pretty much the most carefree schedule I’ve known since preschool when we had scheduled nap time.
Only one of my classes is a necessity for my major and all the rest I’m taking just for funsies.
One of these classes is a super-basic English class called Female Sociopath, and it helps that I’ve read essentially all of the required reading already (except one, which is where this list comes in). That class basically tackles one of my favorite character types which I’ve been referring to in my head for years as ‘women who inspire me to be the devil incarnate.’ So it’s an excellent fit and, having given this scary female trope a disturbing amount of thought already, the class is very much a breeze.
But there was still that one book that I hadn’t read yet, and because it’s been my universal experience that reading a book for class absolutely ruins the experience, I made sure to read it about a week in advance.  That book was Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and I’m so glad I took the precaution, because it’s such an amazing and I’m proud to have rescued it from the insidious and pervasive interference of academics.

Beloved, Toni Morrison
There’s so much that is heart-tugging and disturbing in Beloved.  It’s impossible to tell what leaves you wordless; the matter-of-fact interactions with the ghostly and supernatural or the daily horrors faced by black people, black women especially, in the Civil War era.  It’s so full of isolation, assault, sex, love, desperation, pain, loss, and the surprise attacks of suppressed memories that you feel yourself needing to surface just to get a breath of fresh air.  It’s also a puzzle of a book- the novel’s relation to time is off-putting to say the least, but when everything comes together it’s so devastating and gripping.  I would never call Beloved an uplifting book, but I truly couldn’t put it down because it is so powerful, and it reminds you of the real scope and power of human feeling.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
This book does not get nearly as much credit as it deserves, but I’m proud to say I’ve done my part and recommended it to Hyun, who read it (and loved it!).  And I don’t only love it because there’s a character named Constance (who I kind of identify with, not to be creepy).  This novel is just so small town-Gothic, I love it.  There’s this rural mid-1900s feeling overlaid with this gloomy Victorian sense of horror and forboding.  As in Beloved, a violent past tragedy has led to the isolation and ostracism of the family at the novel’s center, who then have to struggle within themselves and with each other to make sense of the past and the present and future.

Les Enfants Terribles, Jean Cocteau
In Les Enfants Terribles (Or The Holy Terrors) we still have the themes of isolation, but all of the horrible happenings are yet to come.  A young brother and sister are left on their own both in their home and in an imaginary world of their own creation, “The Game”.  Years pass, their disturbing Game takes on new and sinister meanings, and as their reliance and obsession with one another grows, so does their hatred.  They grow up, but not really, and a few close friends are sucked into this spiral of insanity by the charisma and magnetic ‘otherness’ of the two siblings. Eventually everyone is sucked down into the abyss.

So looking back it would appear that the underlying themes that tie this list so nicely together for me are isolation/ostracism and horrors brought on by freaky children.  And as far as my general reading habits go, they’re all fairly recent works. Because otherwise I can think of one or two or three more that belong in this company.  But I like this group.  If I were to add more, I guess McEwan’s Cement Garden (which I didn’t like, but has similar ideas) and The Lord of the Flies- which makes me realize another thing these novels have in common… interesting female characters. Maybe that’s why Lord of the Flies feels like a bad fit.  And I don’t remember the gender breakdown in Cement Garden.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: