After reading the 190 notable stories of 2009 for this year's Million Writers Award, I have one question for all the writers and readers out there: What's with all the depressing stories making the rounds?
Don't get me wrong. I love depressing stories when they're well done. (Note to readers: cliches about life to follow.) After all, life isn't an endless refrain of Don't Worry, Be Happy. Without falling into the valleys of life, you can't understand why the peaks are so f'in high. Ups and downs, good and bad, happiness and tragedy--they're all part of the whole being alive and human gig.
So I do enjoy stories and books on depressing subjects and situations. A perfect example is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, which is not only one of my all-time favorite novels but also a damn-depressing book. To balance that out, I also love uplifting books like Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Not that this novel is a happy happy book either--I mean, the main character loses everyone he loves and spends months in a lifeboat with a tiger. But despite the bad things that happen in Life of Pi , there is a glimmer of hope to the story. You finish the book feeling that life isn't all bad. That good things are possible.
And that's all I ask from my reading--that some of the stories give me that glimmer of hope.
But as I read those 190 notable stories, I felt under siege by the forces of depression. Incest. Violence. Murder. Betrayal. Anger. Extremely unhappy endings and beginnings and middles. There were very few uplifting stories on the list. I wondered what had happened to stories like the wonderful "FridayAfternoons on Bus 51" by Sruthi Thekkiam, which I picked for the Million Writers Award top ten a few years back.
While I haven't done a happy/depressing analysis of the previous Million Writers Award notable story lists, my sense is that this is the most angst-filling list ever. And perhaps this is only natural. The world has been going through a bad run of late, what with the economic near-collapse, wars, and so on. So perhaps it is only natural that the stories being published recently are overall darker in tone than a few years ago.
Again, don't take me wrong. In a few days, when I release my 10 favorite stories from the notable list, most of those stories won't be happy happy. In fact, it's possible all of them will feature a dark display of anger, violence, murder, betrayal, and evil deeds. I'm picking the best stories possible. If they're all depressing, so be it.
Still, is it too much to ask for a few rays of sunshine once in a while?