I once knew a doctor who said that, in his own training, his residency director had given him a can’t-miss tool for quickly diagnosing someone with depression. “When they leave your office and YOU’RE depressed, they have depression.”
Why is so much of contemporary literature compelled to leave us in worse emotional shape than when we picked up the book in the first place? Why is meaningless, unrequited suffering the go-to mode for serious fiction?
I just finished a book about half an hour ago, and no, I won’t tell you what it was. You might love it, and I don’t need to prejudice your reading. (Except toward things I admire. I have no compunction whatsoever about recommending books I admire.) Anyway, this book was shortlisted for a couple of important European literary prizes, it’s got lots of quotably lyrical passages, and when I finished it, I fired up this website and started this essay because I needed some little shot of lifeblood after that story had drained it all away.
Vampire books are everywhere. Books with vampires as characters, to be sure, but more importantly and more harmfully, books that suck all of the optimism and gumption out of us, leaving us with only one life lesson—the same lesson I wrote months ago about a different book: Well, we’re all fucked.
I wonder if these books make their authors happier. Like literal vampires, maybe those writers live longer and more joyful lives through ingesting all of the joy and hope they’ve sucked away from us. I know that Zuckerberg will live to be older than Methuselah simply by virtue of hoarding all of the time that he’s stolen away from billions of innocent people.
Please, my fellow fiction writers: deliver us some hope now and again. Let a character be healed, let a story rejuvenate its readers. If you need to mimic a mythological character, let it be a bodhisattva and not another vampire.