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Let’s Have the Good Guy Win

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Long ago, when I was making friends with a fabulous intelligent interesting woman—a bit older than me—I was disappointed to learn that she preferred to read mystery books. At that time, I felt that mystery books were inferior genre fiction. A reader knew exactly what to expect from a book like that. Where was the challenge and pleasure in it?

She must have seen my disappointment, because she quickly explained “I like to see the bad guys get caught and good triumph in the end.”

I didn’t understand it then, but I think I get it now.

Last year, I had a bad run of my usual literary fiction choices. Wonderful book, wonderful writing, but three in a row dealt with suicide. After the second book, I was asking myself and the universe, “Really?! Must writers be so dark? There is nothing wrong with happy and victorious, is there?”

Then the third book with a suicide attempt happened. At this point, it was ‘fool me three times shame on me.’ I was not going to read another book without a guarantee that no one was going to kill themselves. Enough was enough, already! But what sort of book was for sure going to be suicide free?

Romance novel? One couldn’t be certain.
Mystery? Definitely not.
Science Fiction? Please. The dystopia of sci-fi might not only have people killing themselves, I might want to kill myself at the end of their bleakness.

Then I knew:
I could be very sure that if anyone offed themselves in a fantasy story, that person would deserve it. Fantasy is all about adventurous brave heroes. Struggle? Danger? Heroes and evil villains? Done and Done.

The brave would prevail! The bad guy would be at the very least badly thwarted, if not outright overthrown.

Yes, that would do.

The internet and friends gave me some very good recommendations, and I dove head first into the life-affirming world of fantasy genre fiction.

I finally got what my friend meant. Sometimes, you just need that one thing from a story. That thing that tells you it’s going to be okay and the world is alright on the whole, even when your world is off-kilter.

My professors’ Guilt List will be there. When I’m ready to go back to the ‘good’ books, I can find them. But right now, when things just seem more and more depressing in the world, I’ll follow the hero and believe in whatever magic they are using up until the bedside lamp turns out. Sweet dreams for me.

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  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I hope that now that you’ve come to a better understanding of the virtue of having “good triumph in the end” that you’ll give mysteries a second thought. A good mystery or police procedural like Michael Connelly’s or Dennis Lehane’s exemplifies the “challenge” with which you so cavalierly and inexplicably labeled this “inferior” genre as lacking.

  • Murphy

    Gordon, I agree with you that mystery novels can be worthwhile.
    In the context of this story, though, my criteria for choosing my next book was based on whether it would have any suicides in it. And mysteries are not garuanteed to be suicide-free zones.

    I think probably fantasy is.

    But maybe i’m wrong. I’d be happy to hear of some that I could be sure to avoid while I’m in my current suicide-averse frame of mind.