A few world fantasies ago – I can’t remember when – I had this discussion about Neuropath with this guy – I can’t remember who – who was curious about whether I had children, which I didn’t at the time. His argument was that Neuropath would read a lot different to me if I was a parent. It would be more ‘sordid’ he said. The huge generic mistake I made in Neuropath, I’ve since discovered, was to allow harm to come to the hero’s kids. Apparently putting them in peril is all well and fine, but injuring them is a big no-no.
Well today I dropped off my little girl for her first day in daycare, and have lost my ability to concentrate on anything except the legion of potential harms that could befall her in the absence of her superhero father. Fear, I’ve come to realize, is a large component of parental love, indistinguishable from it at times. And I finally understand full well why parents would be so unsettled by Neuropath – it concretizes the terror that creeps through all parental love.
Which just goes to show that nothing is simple, not even a father’s love for his child. Human emotions are tangled masses, where one mode continually animates, permeates, and consummates others.
The weird thing is that not all of us experience this complexity. Introspective access to our emotions varies between people: some of us can see something of the messy bolus, whereas other only see unitary shape - ‘low-feelers’ I’ve seen them called. Perhaps this is why so many people can think that Britanny Spears provides profound commentary on the human emotional condition – why sentimentalism, cartoon representations of emotional complexity, can reek of truth for so many.
And this is why, I’m guessing, psychological realism so often backfires in genre fiction. People like their representations to match up with their experiences, and since no one wants to be the ‘too little feeler,’ they will invariably accuse your characters of ‘feeling too much,’ of being whiny and self-obsessed and the like.
But then what the hell does it mean to possess emotional conflicts that we can’t experience?
Anyway, in my next book, Disciple of the Dog, I experiment with a kind pseudo-sentimentalism to see if I can’t simultaneously ring both bells. I’m curious to see how it works…