I’ve just put aside, unfinished, yet another “Instant NY Times bestseller!” that features long and thoroughly sickening passages told from the point of view of a deranged serial killer.
As I wrote in a previous blog, I’m not terribly squeamish about violence in fiction, and I’ll admit that I like Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter novels, but I usually steer clear of serial killer stories. They seem to be taking over crime fiction, though, so they’re hard to avoid. And they’re more graphic than ever before, especially in the degrading way they treat women. What’s especially disturbing is that many of these books are written by women.
The one I just gave up on went into great – and, dare I say it, loving – detail about the killer’s torture and rape of his female victims, and the sensual pleasure and sexual satisfaction he experienced. After three or four such scenes, I was feeling queasy and disgusted. I had to ask myself how many more descriptions of the killer’s engorged penis I really wanted to encounter. The answer was none.
The book was a bestseller, and it was written by a woman, which means that in all likelihood the majority of its readers have been women. I have to wonder what enjoyment female readers get from this kind of story, which seems to me to be a kind of pornography. Yes, justice will be done in the end, but is the triumph of good over evil in the last chapter enough to make the degradation that precedes it a pleasure to read?
There’s no question that crime fiction writers have to come up with ever more shocking scenarios to grab attention in a crowded marketplace, and taking readers into the sick mind of a serial killer seems to be a favored approach. It’s all imaginary, since the average writer isn’t a serial killer and has no firsthand knowledge of the psychopathy involved. The author can make up anything he or she wishes to produce suspense and shocks. Most of the time they choose to portray women as victims of torture. These unfortunate females are imprisoned, bound, gagged, strung up, sliced, burned, blinded, beaten, kicked, raped, sexually assaulted with objects, starved, suffocated, drowned, shot, stabbed, buried alive -- every awful bit of it described in detail, all in the name of entertainment.
Sure, the occasional story will have a male victim. But fictional serial killers have a lot more fun torturing and murdering women. And apparently readers find women much more appealing than men as victims. I’m trying to understand why.
Why does the reading public support the mass production of books about the torture and killing of women? Why are so many readers, many of them female, entertained by this kind of novel? What emotional need does this entertainment meet in the reader? Why do women make “better” victims than men?
An even scarier question: After these maim-and-kill-her books begin to seem tame, what’s next?