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When You Can’t Read About Violence Anymore

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

girls on fireI just finished Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire and am now reading Emma Cline’s The Girls. While the former takes place in the 1990s and the latter in the 1960s, the two have much in common. Both address the tumultuous time that is adolescence, and both immerse themselves in the world of the teen girl. More importantly, both are filled with the violence of adolescent girls.

Yes, violence. Not so much gossip and mean girls (although that’s certainly on the pages), but more like death and murder. While I’m all for unlikable characters and smashing stereotypes of saccharine girls, these books are chilling in their calculated depravity. Refreshing? In a way. They are certainly compelling reads – I finished Wasserman’s book in three days, and am likely finishing Cline’s tonight (I started it last night). I probably could have finished each of them in a night, if I didn’t have a newborn to care for. But for some reason, my heart isn’t really in it with these two.

The Girls

I’m an avid Law & Order:SVU watcher, and I’ve read Gillian Flynn. I’m not generally a squeamish person. I admit, though, when I had to read Bolano’s 2666 for school, I skimmed much of that chapter with all the descriptions of the murders. But perhaps given the recent events of Orlando, I no longer have the stomach for this. Maybe it’s because I’m now a mother now. I might be approaching this all wrong. Perhaps I no longer have the patience for reading about violence when it’s all over my social media feeds and on the news. Maybe now that I have a newborn to take care of, the thought of harm is one I can no longer tolerate if not absolutely necessary.

I get that we turn to books, music, art, to grieve, mourn, process, and heal. We read and listen and watch to gain perspective, hear stories, and bear witness. With so many stories of men committing acts of violence, I appreciate the perspective and reality of girls being just as terrifying. But right now, though these stories are beautifully rendered in their words and plot, I just can’t read any more like this.