September 29th, 2010

When Bad Things Happen to Good Characters...



Most people, I’m pretty sure, don’t think of sitcoms as stressful (By the way, that's Janet looking stressed out on the right in the picture). Age and social conditioning have somewhat improved my ability to tolerate the horrible climactic moments of sitcoms—I used to run out of the room at the point where the Big Problem was brought into the open. For this “sensitivity,” I have been ridiculed, but that’s all right.

I don’t want people to be embarrassed. I don’t want them to feel ashamed. I don’t want their weaknesses, which they’ve taken such pains to conceal, to be revealed. I can’t take the tension. I can’t take the fear that the people around them won’t understand and love them anyway.

I know, in my head, that in sitcoms it turns out all right. But my gut begs to disagree. At any moment, the kindly, gentle laugh at the silliness of the human condition might turn into humiliation. Reality and its nasty possibilities break through the pleasant illusion of a benign universe.

The trouble I was having with Anansi Boys seems to have been that kind of problem. Way back when it first came out, I bought the book because I loved American Gods. I slogged through the first four chapters, reading more and more slowly as I realized that Bad Things were going to happen to Fat Charlie. Then, figuratively, I ran out of the room, hid in the bathroom, and didn’t come out until the next commercial.

The interval from that point until yesterday allowed the tension to relax. I didn’t have to experience the build-up to chapter 5. Jumping in at that point, I coped with the Bad Things and even managed to enjoy the undoubted skill of Gaiman’s writing. This time I’ll finish the book.