I am feeling a little inadequate right now. Nothing physical – I can long jump as far as ever (a startlingly short distance), and hold my breath while the kettle boils, and do a bunch of pullups – well, a few – well, two.
I am talking about emotional inadequacy.
When I'm not reading kidlit, I like literary stuff or murder mysteries. Some of my faves slide between the genres,combing stylish prose and kick-ass plotting. You know what I mean -- Kate Atkinson, Richard Price, Gillian Flynn. Guys like that.
Right now I’m having a tough time with Prayer by Philip Kerr. And it might be my fault. Kerr’s a real good writer. I admire his Bernie Gunther novels for the period detail and interesting moral choices. Prayer gets great reviews. So why am I alternately bored and suffused with inappropriate giggles?
The story features an FBI agent who might be dealing with things from beyond the grave. He’s been cursed by a charismatic southern preacher, and he’s genuinely scared for himself and his girl. The closer we get to the pit of hell, the nastier the smells and the faster our hero runs from the demon, the wider I yawn.
Why can’t I climb on board? I dunno. I admire Stephen King’s work ethic immensely. There’s nothing wrong with his prose style. But I just can’t bring myself to shiver. Oooh, a cursed car. Oooh, a cursed doggie. Oooh, a cursed clown. Ho hum.
If I myself were being hounded by a demon, I would not run away. What would be the point? Demons pass through walls. They travel faster than light. Me on foot, or in my rental car? Probably not going to get away. If the demon is not real, I'll wake up. If it is real, it's got me.
It’s not that I can’t be scared. Fire, earthquake, creepy relatives, Revenue Canada, lost children – all sorts of things can scare the pants off me. Flashing lights in my rearview mirror bring my heart into my mouth. But demons? Ghosts? Satan, with or without his pitchfork? I just can’t take them seriously. And the result is a loss of enjoyment. I can’t give myself up to the fun of being scared by hell.
At least I have someone to blame. It’s my parents’ fault. If they had given me a proper religious education, I might be able to enjoy Kerr’s book.