Sunday, May 3, 2015

Am I a Wuss?

I have been reading (and reading and reading) and I have observed a trend which disturbs me.

While I enjoy books with action and thrills, I have noticed a lot of authors include extremely graphic depictions of torture and violence. It is often so egregious I can't even bring myself to finish the book.

Now I fully understand that conflict is at the very heart of storytelling. And violence is a form of conflict. On the other hand, I have found most readers have vivid imaginations. Is it really necessary to spell out each and every gory, tortuous (dare I say, psychotic) detail?

I'm sure I could argue that violence is an easy way to have conflict in a story, but that is not what I am ranting about. I am talking about the kind of over-the-top descriptions that leave nothing to the imagination.

I won't mention names or titles, but one such book has a scene in which a character is severely beaten with a baseball bat. The author described each blow, every crunch of bone, each tooth that was knocked out. I actually stuck with this book until another scene in which a different character was bound, a garden hose forced down his throat and...I couldn't tell you, I stopped reading.

As a writer, I feel the author could have gotten more mileage out of these scenes by being more vague. After all, telling me someone is being tortured with a garden hose, then cutting away to another scene leaves a lot to the imagination. And although as a reader I may imagine the most vile abuses, I won't be able to confirm them.

Another such book described, in detail, the torture of a twelve-year-old. A twelve-year-old! In. Graphic. Detail. That book inspired the visual at the top of this post. And it wasn't the only one: Yet another book opened with a group of naked children being severely beaten.

I had agreed to read that last one in order to provide a pre-release review. When I contacted the author and told him why I could not, in good conscience, recommend the book his response was, "It gets better." I'm sure that will look great on the back cover: "A gripping tale that is ultimately better than the brutal abuse of children."

In some of these books, I wonder about the story itself. It doesn't seem as if the violence is moving the story along. Rather, it seems as if the plot is just a vehicle to get from one ultra-violent scene to another.

So, what do you think? Has literature changed? Or am I just a wuss? Every book has an audience, but what are your feelings? Can things like torture, assault and rape be depicted too graphically? Do you prefer the author to leave some details to your imagination? Or do you want every lurid detail in hi-def surround sound? Share you thoughts in the comments.

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