By Danielle Susi
Reading Kaye Gibbons’ novel Ellen Foster is the first memory I have of crying hard while reading. The book was a summer assignment when I was nine years old. It was my first experience with a work that focused on physical and psychological abuse, and at that point, the only one I had read in which the child—the protagonist—was not able to fully be a child.
I wept. I was sad for Ellen’s loss of innocence, but so grateful that my parents loved my brother and me and that no one hit each other.
Two years later, I cried for Ethan Frome. (Are we seeing a pattern with these title name initials?) Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes place in a fictional New England town and I recognized the scene as similar to one I grew up in. Romantic betrayal, crumbled desires, and a suicide pact were just some of the reasons I recall this being a particularly heart-breaking book.
There have been many books that moved me or stunned me or shook me, but very few I have cried for. This list includes, but is not limited to:
Seam by Tarfia Faizullah;
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle;
Lampblack & Ash by Simone Muench;
Nox by Anne Carson;
Live Girls by Beth Nugent (made it to the third page and the tears came); and
Lullaby (with Exit Sign) by Hadara Bar-Nadav
For the brief time that I was immersed in these books, they were the holder of my own sadness. I could pool it all up and set in their laps for a while. I dreaded reaching their ends.
While many of these selections confront grief and mourning directly, I found that it was the language I connected with most. Everything trapped inside of me was finally offered a cathartic release when I realized, this is exactly the heavy darkness I have had sitting on me (and written in a more beautiful way than I ever could have written it!).
We’ve been told from early childhood that a book is an “escape.” I’m learning – slowly – what it means to let a book sit with you, sustain you, run its fingers through your hair, give you good food and push you to keep reading. These books never take you away from what you’re feeling, but act as validation for it.
Flannery O’Connor once stated, "I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system.” It rarely happens, but I want everything I read to scare me, to shock my system. To make those deep connections between writer and reader are important, sad, beautiful moments and I intend to let it get at the heart of me.
Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, The Rumpus, Lines+Stars, DIALOGIST, and Midway Journal, among many others. She is a READ section contributor for The Angle and Newcity recently named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com.