“Darkness Was Cheap…..”
Darkness was Cheap…. And Scrooge loved it.
Fittingly the Red Wheelbarrow Writers Book Club took up the theme of Darkness for December. Our thematic explorations always yield a wide array of reading and writerly responses.
Amory brought books of a meditative, religious bent, PUNCHING HOLES IN THE DARK by Robert Benson and LEARNING TO WALK IN THE DARK by Barbara Brown Taylor, advocating that one is not alone when the sun goes down.
Creativity wrested from darkness came from the books both she and Linda suggested. LIGHT IN THE DARK, essays about creativity edited by Joe Fasslei, and the work of Joan Didion who writes to find her way out of the darkness.
Many poets found inspiration in the darkness, Linda Paston for one, whose book INSOMNIA Linda touted, as well as Kevin Barry’s DARK LIES THE ISLAND. Susan, an accomplished poet herself, brought forth the work of Edgar Allan Poe (of course!) and the lyrics of Robert Service, and the work of Mary Oliver, adding that “It took me years to realize that darkness was a gift.” Victoria mentioned Dylan Thomas’s lovely UNDER MILK WOOD where she first learned to use “hymning” as a verb.
Novels abounded: THE YEAR THE LIGHTS CAME ON by Terry Kay, Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE that explores the darkness of being blind. Everyone’s favorite Ray Bradbury was represented by ALL SUMMER AND A DAY. And Victoria remembered that Jules Verne’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH had wonderful descriptions of that dark core. Susan also brought to our attention the work of an Alaskan writer, Eowyn. Ivey whose book SNOW CHILD is alive with magical realism. The story is set in Alaska in the 20’s; they build a snow child and it comes alive, but the thematic is that of a cycle of light and grieving.
But Darkness is not only poetry, myth and solace. What of the Darkness of Evil? Lisa mentioned NIGHT FILM a 2014 novel by Marisa Pessel 2014 about a reporter who covers the murder of the daughter of a horror film writer. Apparently the book itself had gruesome pictures, but Lisa listened to it as an audio book, no pictures, but she still found it harrowing.
Jes too found Darkness at the core of LETTING LOOSE THE HOUNDS, fierce stories by Brady Udall, and a book called LIZARD WINE by Elizabeth Angstrom which she described as “skin-crawly writing.” And the anthology MIAMI NOIR, part of a series of cities and descriptions of dark deeds like murder.
Darkness can lie as well in politics and society as well. Frances brought to our attention a book called DOWN GIRL that charts the dark logic of misogyny. It is by a writer named Kate Manne and ends with Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
The darkness implicit in domestic violence was cited by Sean in one of his choices, BETRAYED, an anthology of non fiction pieces about domestic violence.
He also mentioned an intriguing book by a Spanish writer, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, THE SHADOW OF THE WIND that is fantastic portrayal of Barcelona at night. I can’t remember if he said it had been translated or not. For him this fired up the spark of a novel about two flamenco dancers during the Franco era. So light certainly came from that darkness.
For myself, I return to the work of two of my favorite writers, Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens. Wharton’s ETHAN FROME is so chilling that cold and night and darkness drape across the entire story, lit only here and there by light thru a church window, a candle on a table, meager firelight that illuminates a grotesque cripple.
Dickens’ late novels are unremittingly dark. BLEAK HOUSE and OUR MUTUAL FRIEND seem to me to take place wholly in the grim darkness of a London winter, though in fact this is not the sole setting for these novels. The pervasive effect of darkness is at their very hearts.
And too….famously we have HEART OF DARKNESS. As the protagonist/narrator, lifted on the tides of the Thames, retells his search, not simply for an individual, but for the core of a whole empire and the Europeans who have lost themselves and their souls to it. Despite the heat of Africa, this novel is very dark indeed.
In January Red Wheelbarrow Writers Book Club moves from Darkness to Transformations. Bring your thoughts/books/instincts to the Pickford this Sunday, January 14th at 4 and share your writerly insights.