Psychological Suspense as Multi-faceted, Ambiguous Complexity of Life

hairbookWe are the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves and the nature of reality, and there is never a moment in those stories we can stand on, if we are honest, and calmly survey all the rest as our Queendom, which we keep in perfect order and control, all in its place, accounted for by census. We could stand on another moment and look around at the waters we are desperately drowning in, next to the other moments we flew out of laughing.

Reading “The Stray Horse,” from Piano Stories, by Uruguayan author Felisberto Hernandez, I am reminded how much I love immersion into the Alice in Wonderland reality of a mind grappling with reality. The narrator begins by telling us in a perfectly straightforward way about his childhood as he studied piano with a teacher he was inordinately fond of as a boy.

Then, the cohesive, linear, objective story stops suddenly as his mind is no longer able to maintain that semblance of reality. “I refused to enclose my memories in a grid of space and time.” He becomes disturbed, trapped in the belief that he is being is taken over by an inchoate partner. I find this shift in the narrative, where the book unravels, as compelling as any I have ever read. Perhaps the most honest I have seen in my life.

Like Proust’s digressions on the nature of memory, Piano Stories displays the raw inability to write a true memoir, the random links between things, the subjective causality and the reasonableness of what to include, the shameful parts that are left out with the implication they never occurred. So much lives in the white space between scenes and chapters. This is where truth exists. And we can only hint at it with that silence from which the semblance of reality arises, and is shuffled, is read by the readers a bit at a time in the bath, skipped over during moments of distraction, to be read again, and marked with a pen, the pages turned down, never to be returned to.

Any time if we examine our thoughts honestly, our memories do not flow out chronologically, in perfect detail and clarity; our identity does not remain the same throughout our live, and as we look back to assess it moment by changing moment. We are unreliable narrators to ourselves and to others, as we present ourselves as we want or as we fear, depending on the patterns our varying dopamine and serotonin levels present us with.

We affirm we’ve been a mild success in our lives after enthusiastic applause at a reading, for example. Or we’ve always really been a bit of a failure, when no applause is forthcoming, our audience looking away uncomfortably and talking among themselves. We’re good looking if we drink a bottle of water — or perhaps a glass of wine. We’re flabby and pasty if we don’t. We wake up from a dream of love believing we’re still young with dewy potential. An hour later we come to terms with our permanently wrinkled isolation. In other words, put in your own version of these unsettling shifts.

Maybe one day you believe in the God of your childhood and the next day you find it no longer makes sense. Maybe you thought your child chose you to be born to because you’d been together lifetimes and the next you realize he had no choice but to be made out of biological mass and is just struck with you. You felt a sense of fairness, believing your parents supported you because of karma, and then were humiliated when you discovered the dubious origin of of the concept of karma. Maybe you grew up reading books you completely believed in and later found out were fascist. Maybe you based your belief system on events you discerned suddenly were hoaxes. These are some of the kinds of revelations characters in the novels in my Agents of the Nevermind series face, particularly in Giant Jack.

Because none of us have changeless, monolithic minds, Psychological Suspense is an honest genre to portray humanity. The protagonists of books and movies of that style stand on unstable ground, often because they were put there by someone else who wishes to keep them in a weakened state. And ultimately, our culture needs us to feel insecure, needy, and incomplete, to be lucrative consumers and voters.

Sometimes obsessed protagonists have frayed morality they can’t grab onto and do criminal things, have serious flaws, yet we bond with them, uncomfortably recognizing our own nightmares of hiding someone we’ve murdered, or becoming a zoo full of braying and roaring animals let loose on an unsuspecting landscape.

We all have a distorted world-view. Since the age of Post-modernism, we have to admit the limited and biased science of humans can’t explain everything. Scientific studies can’t be replicated, or their replications show opposite results; scientists are bought off; their biases influence the answers; the logic is outdated; the truth is covered up and people who champion it are demonized.

Yes, the quest to find better truth, a closer sense of how things are, what we don’t and don’t know is admirable, and echoed in the protagonists’ journey through Psychological Suspense. Readers who feel the intensity of such a quest within themselves, who enjoy the rush of finding out they were wrong about one thing after another, and feel compassion for others going through that process can be drawn to Psychological Suspense and Psychological Thrillers.

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