So the lady wasn’t a real person at all. The surprise of this suited Pauline. Maybe most people weren’t real, just pretending to be. It helped when you knew that, that they might be ghosts, like you. Unless that meant the people you only had a chance of meeting as ghosts, like Joanne, were less likely to be ghosts themselves.
I finished reading What They Do in the Dark around the time the Supermoon arrived, and I’m saying this because I believe Amanda Coe’s novel contributed to the nightmares I had during that week. The novel is not horrifying in terms of the supernatural or serial murders (both themes of my nightmares), but its fragmented story and time lines lead us to an unnerving event that you may miss if you blink (spoilers ahead).
The novel begins with a passage that looks like it was taken out of a newspaper. Child star Lallie Paluza has died. The year is 2000, but rather than dwell in that year, Amanda Coe brings us to dwell in the past: the mid 1970s. A protagonist in movies and on television, Lallie is also central to the novel, but her circle is much smaller than the surrounding circles of other characters. We primarily follow Gemma and Pauline, 10-year-olds who come from opposite social classes, and where Pauline’s home life contributes to – and has formed – her unruly, sporatic behavior, Gemma’s upbringing has built her need for control and obedience. Adult lives and the lives of children intermingle both in relationships and in the sense that the line separating both stages of life can be blurry and unpredictable.
While I felt discomfort throughout the novel – it does, after all, begin with an obituary and ends with a vicious attack on a child by children – the discomfort wasn’t enough to keep me fully in tune with any of the characters’ lives. Vera, an adult actress on the set of one of Lallie’s movies, saw Lallie from a perspective different than Gemma or Pauline, but her superficiality wasn’t strong or weak enough for me to form an opinion on her character. As I was reading, I kept thinking that perhaps I wasn’t looking deep enough, and then got too distracted by over-analyzing small details. Or maybe they weren’t small? But what if they had been important? Everything was so literal, where was the figurative hiding? And, reading felt like a very on-the-surface activity. I felt like I was floating along and not being consumed by each word, sentence, and paragraph.
I’m going to give What They Do In The Dark another read, because maybe I did miss details, and maybe I need to give in to being consumed by each word. Have you ever felt like you were reading a story incorrectly? Like while you were floating along, wondering how the author could get you to feel discomfort while easing you into the next chapter and the next, other readers were trudging through each line focusing on the correct details of the story and not on themselves reading it?
I was not expecting to have this reaction after reading Amanda Coe’s novel. I wanted to have more reactions and draw more conclusions to and about the events in novel, obviously, but is it more genius for an author to make a reader reflect on the actual reading, and not the content (no, probably not)? I think I’ve done Amanda Coe a great injustice by talking and thinking about myself from maybe the third chapter of her book up until now, but perhaps What They Do In The Dark set off an alarm in my reader brain telling me to re-evaluate my habits and explore more writing outside 18th Century Europe. Maybe I should have just focused more and not been so obsessed with the Supermoon. Maybe I should have taken more notes. Or maybe, I should have just reacted to the experiences I was having during my reading of the novel and then let them go.
Maybe this makes no sense to you, my reader, but I’m hoping it does, regardless of how fragmented this post has become. Has a book ever made you act this kind of crazy? I’ll be getting my hands on more of Amanda Coe’s work, because I need to settle this debate: was it her, or was it just me?