Bored or Offended?

I just finished several books by Ian McEwan- On Chesil Beach, Cement Garden and In Between the Sheets. I was strolling through the downtown Timberland library and the cover of the first on that list caught my eye, calling me from the “recommended by readers” shelf. I had seen the movie Atonement which was based on his novel and quite enjoyed it and, as I was feeling a little bored and not in the least optimistic with where I was headed mentally when searching for my next read, I checked it out. Book covers, unlike wine labels, do a lot for me when deciding what to read. If I could switch careers, book cover designer would be high on my list. Interestingly enough my favorite books don’t have great covers, so perhaps I should just admire the designs and walk away.

On Chesil Beach was fabulous. McEwan’s writing is fluid, engaging and insightful. The story is about a couple who arrive at their wedding night both virgins with a lot of expectations. The author describes them as old fashioned, remnants from an earlier time.  Through a series of flashbacks, the he recounts their respective lives and shows how their upbringing, families, education and courtship led them to this singular event and how their emotional preconceptions, desires, apprehensions and confusions affects their impending physical intimacy. What is amazing is his ability to articulate how each of them is approaching sex, and it how the success of this first encounter symbolizes for them both, in part, their hope for future happiness as a couple. In our current culture where premarital sexual experiences makes this whole subject almost mute, it was fascinating to see someone speak on a subject through the eyes of characters who were ignorant in such matters with such sensitivity and awareness. This book I think would be particularly poignant for anyone who has abstained before marriage, as it brings up some issues that would be beneficial to discuss both before and after the wedding.

So on the heels of this book I give In Between Sheets a go. I am thinking I have found my next favorite author and I am excited about it. This one is a collection of short stories and with the title I am expecting something a bit more controversial, but given how he handled the subject in the last book I am hoping for a pleasant surprise. The first story is cliched and bit crude, but I press on. What’s next? How about a story of a girl having an affair with a monkey, with some details of their copulation? What!? Bestiality is never funny to me. Never. So I stop.

Cement Garden is next. The last book was from his earlier years, so I excuse his choices as trying to be too edgy. I will give him another chance. Again the book is well written, which is no surprise. It’s about a family who’s mother and father die and the kids have to fend for themselves. The story is told from the son, who has a crush on his bigger sister. Okay, so maybe confused boys can have such a thing and they grow out of it, yes? At least that is what I a hoping. The kids are under a lot of stress, dealing with an extreme situation, they don’t know how to handle their emotions. They rely on each other for help. Well the “help” does not stay innocent and the story ends with mutual incest. Another subject I don’t find funny. In fairness the book is not a comedy and he never makes them out be “healthy” but nevertheless I was sickened by it. I don’t want to ever be entertained by the subject, even if it is presented as the twisted end of a dark story.

I am almost at a point that as a Christian I am either bored or offended by entertainment. It’s either Little House on the Prairie or the Family Guy. I am being forced into becoming a person who constantly criticizes Hollywood and the media and subsequently annoys everybody and is labeled as a prude. I don’t want to be that guy. But, what is surprising is reading people’s reactions to the subject matter like I mentioned. It doesn’t seem to matter. You can write about whatever you want, no matter how dark, as long you are master at storytelling.

2 Responses to “Bored or Offended?”

  1. I read a lot of contemporary literature, and I am also frequently disturbed. I remember everyone raving about “The God of Small Things”, and when I finally read it, I was apalled by the brother-sister romance. I don’t care how poetic the writing is . . . I don’t need to read about that!

    It seems like a lot of authors are even using subject matter like this as a dramatic element. Either that, or I’m becoming my prudish mother!

  2. It’s sad to me that to be horrified by incest, amongst other things, would be a mark of prudishness. It’s crazy! Where would the “too controversial/shocking/gross to be entertaining” consensus be, where is that proverbial line in the sand now?

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