The (Dubious?) Delights of Darkness

“…it’s a jubilant celebration that explores human darkness with a profound lyric tenderness…”

This is how one reviewer describes Rene Denfeld’s book The Enchanted. I just finished reading the book and can attest to the truth of this assessment (well, I’m not sure about the “jubilant celebration” bit). A day after reading the last pages I feel the literary equivalent of eating a meal of rich, exotic ingredients — queasy-uneasy, almost wishing I had never opened the book and started reading. It has left a layer of disturbing images in my brain (as well as a few gorgeous, heart-rending ones) that will take a while to fade. Which speaks highly of the author’s efforts.

For some reason I’m intrigued by books that promise darkness, as long as it’s delivered by means of enticing, artful prose. Being something of a misanthrope, I suppose I’m attracted to writing that shows the dark side of humanity. And perhaps I’m looking for explanations or even scraps of hope.

Reading these books can be a strange experience. It goes something like this:

You leave the familiar trail to take a path you’ve never noticed before (but which, when you see it, is too inviting to pass). It twists and turns through a wood full of strange plants and intriguing glimpses of dim, green clearings among tall trees. You keep thinking you should go back, but the path leads you along. It must go somewhere. When you reach a viewpoint or a creek, or if the path starts to peter out, you’ll just turn around and go back the way you came. Easy. (But how long has it been since you left the familiar trail? It feels like a long time, and the things you know are very far away). You come to a house snuggled about with vegetation — unpruned fruit trees, roses and brambles gone wild. It’s never seen a coat of paint and the roof is sagging, but the windows aren’t broken. The path you’ve been following leads to rotting steps that take you to the porch. A solitary chair, a mug half-full of coffee, an ashtray with a single butt. The door is ajar…

So you peer in. And you hear sounds. Wet, ripping sounds, thumps and grunts. Against your better judgment you follow the sounds to a room at the back of the house, where you see a thing of horror being done. Your brain doesn’t have a category for what you’re seeing, so you keep watching. And watching, while the horror goes on and on.

It’s a long way back to your familiar milieu. You can’t stop remembering, seeing those scenes on infinite repeat, feeling the sick and delightful roiling of your sensibilities as you process the images. Because you kept on looking (reading). Because on some level, you enjoyed the experience. You’re not the person you were before you took that path (read that book).

A couple of other books that had this effect on me are Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game and his novella 1922. But The Enchanted beats them both, because it feels less fictional. The fundamental horror is real.

 

 

 

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