Well, let me start by saying that all fiction does have some degree of manipulation. Heck, fiction itself starts from authors creating settings, characters and atmosphere and I think sub-consciously they do aim for a certain kind of reaction from the readers. But, what if you come across a book with content that is just blatantly and excessively manipulative – the kind where you feel like you are being “told” how you are supposed to feel?
A Little Life is always going to be one of my most unforgettable two-star reads. It pushed, no, tore the envelope of emotional manipulation into a million pieces by inserting scenes, plot “twists” and laborious descriptive paragraphs of both extremes – the goodness of friendship amongst wealthy men with insanely successful professional lives and the relentless violence against the human body and soul. A few days after reviewing the book, I was searching for the author’s interviews online and .. I don’t know what I was hoping to find, but I guess I just wanted to read Yanagihara’s thoughts about her own book. I just read a few of her statements and what struck me is her admission that the negative extremes (related to abuse) was intentional. I was taken aback because “manipulation” is usually seen as a negative opinion in book reviews.
Which brings me to my next question:
For me, it doesn’t. At least not while we are on the topic of this discussion post. Knowing intent doesn’t nullify the judgment I might have already made based on the content of the book. If I had judged the author, then yes, having an insight helps to know where the author was coming from and maybe I would change my opinion about the author. But NOT my thoughts on the book.
So, is saying that a book is being overtly manipulative a constructive point of criticism in book reviews? Is it something that plagues any particular genre(s) of fiction? I have grown up reading literary fiction, so it is one of my favorite genres. There is a lot I love about them, but one thing I found quite annoying, especially in books dealing with “heavy” topics, is the lazy scene placements or descriptions which are cues for me to start crying.
This brings me to:
- Well, it just feels disingenuous. If the characters are all well-developed with a personality that sings “Original”, we will connect with their journey THROUGH the story’s progression. There is no need for any other “extra effort”.
- Sometimes, less is more. I just feel like in some stories, especially the “issue-based” books, too much of “explaining” or “dwelling” causes desensitization towards the issue, thereby doing a disservice to the cause.
- I feel like sometimes, this is just used to cover other basic shortcomings of the book. I also feel that narrative humor is sometimes undervalued in favor of dense moments of drama because there is a perception that the latter is more likely to get critical acclaim (?)
So, what do you think? Is this something that is more common in “issue-based” book than, say, the funny and lighthearted reads? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!
(Note: Image credit: https://www.brusheezy.com/backgrounds)