May 8, 2009

The Wesleyan Murder

In my novel, The Golden Calf, the lead character, Ray, gets a job working as a security guard in a liberal arts college and becomes infatuated with a student named Helen. He begins writing her letters:

You don't know me. I've seen you around campus and I'd like to meet you but I don't know how to go about doing it. I'm shy in my own way. The reason I'm writing this is because I think we have something in common. We both want something out of life and we can't find it here. I thought we could meet sometime. Help each other out. Save ourselves.

Helen doesn’t answer his letters and he becomes infuriated, breaking into her room and delivering this letter:

I saw you with that boyfriend of yours. Who is he? Does he care about you? Not like me. I would care for you like you've never been cared for before. I know the pains of the world so I know how to avoid them. I could have been your shelter. But you ignored me. If only you knew what you were ignoring. One day I'm going to be great and you'll regret you ever let me go. I'm the one. Do you have so much better to do? I've seen your friends. They're not very interesting, like most people here. They care only about themselves. And what do they care about? Frail, vile, boring people like themselves. Maybe like you. I thought you wanted to get away. I was wrong. You're just as weak. You don't even deserve my time. You're just as selfish because you won't even write me back. But remember, I've got the upper hand. I know who you are but you don't know me. I'm the one and you didn't realize it. You're too petty. Maybe the best way to get back is to get revenge.

The murderer of the girl at Wesleyan has echoes of this. Whenever these things happen – the VA tech murders, Wesleyan – I think that I’ve justified abhorrent behavior by making it entertaining. Ray’s a fun character. Disturbing, but amusing. This isn't fun at all in reality, and the book was written during a time when school murders weren't happening every other week.

So I wrote a scene in The American Book where the father finds his daughter doing porn online. He confronts her, saying:

“This isn’t only about beauty, or intelligence, or experience, Sophia, or what I’ve written as fiction. It’s about something just being plainly wrong. Murder is illegal for a reason. I’m sure to murder someone would be a significant learning experience, but that does not make it right. The world is disintegrating—it is becoming more of a stupid, terrible, violent place and it is better to not contribute to it. I know when I was younger I liked to write about violence, even about sexuality. But that was when violence and rampant sexuality were not so common as they are today. Believe me, Sophia, you know I’m no conservative. I just think that with the world heading where it is, it is important to fight the good fight.”

The worse the world gets, the less dark fiction serves a purpose - maybe. That's an inner dialog I'm having. You know, this is nothing though. I wrote a book that is echoed by stuff that’s happened in real life. All I did was predict some people’s instincts. I don’t know what it would be like to be J.D. Salinger and have your novel actually inspire Mark David Chapman to kill John Lennon, one of the best people to ever live. I’d want to go into hiding as well. I’d want to kill myself.

So, no, I don’t want to disown my book, not at all, but it’s tough to feel like you're glorifying something that has led to the death of actual people.


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