After lengthy discussions on Facebook last week fueled by a dog death at the beginning of an e-book, the folks at Spinetingler Magazine got in touch with me. They suggested I consider W.D. County's story Plastic Soldiers in their anthology, Speedloader. Do the same "rules" about killing animals in fiction also apply to killing children?
1) I've never read anything so intense in my entire life. I may never again. This is a story that reaches into your guts, twists them and doesn't stop until it's absolutely positive you'll never forget the pain. And I won't.
2) I'm more confused about killing children in fiction than ever before. I thought this was a black-and-white thing. I was wrong.
For many, there are no gray areas on this issue. That's completely understandable. If that's how you feel, I don't recommend reading more. It's about to get bad. Really bad.
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Plastic Soldiers is about the abduction, rape, murder and cremation of boys. The protagonist keeps plastic Army men in his pocket. They "talk" him through his emotional and physical pain - even as he listens to other abductees being raped in the other room.
If you only judge the story off that short description, it'd be easy to write this story off as obscene. But if you keep an open mind about the craft of writing - and can judge a story on the capabilities of the author - then you may find some appreciation for this piece. You might agree with me that despite the astronomical brutality, this is a brilliant piece of fiction.
County's protagonist thinks like a child. It's uncanny. From the things the toy soldiers "say" to him to the words he uses to describe his situation (the "bad man," for example), this is incredible writing. Factor in how breathless the story leaves you by its end, and I got the sense this is almost a perfect piece of fiction.
I say "almost" because of the atrocities commited throughout it. I'm very open-minded, but even I can't say "perfect" in the same sentence as "child rape." But you know what? I don't see how this story could've been written any other way.
The knee-jerk reaction to that may be, "Why did it have to be kids? Couldn't it be told with adults instead?" Rape is horrible no matter the age. As a society, we place extra attention to children's well-being - and with good reason. But tell an adult survivor of rape that he or she "didn't have it that bad" and see what reaction you receive.
The story wouldn't work with adults anyway. The innocence of a boy keeping plastic soldiers in his pocket is the humanizing juxtaposition to the entire dehumanizing situation. The piece loses its power without these polarizing elements going to either extreme.
I can't recommend Plastic Soldiers to everyone. It's only for those looking for a story to challenge their sensibilities without losing sight of literary quality.
If you're one of those people, Speedloader is available on Amazon here for $0.99, as well as other fine e-book retailers.
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BSP: Looking to lighten things up a bit? Check out 4 Funny Detective Stories - Starring Maynard Soloman. No controvery here, just razor-sharp satire with a heaping side of fun.
Ooo, I like it. You must have met my sister's brats.
That about sums it up, Jon.
Like when they are screaming in an adult type restaurant
Sticking their hands on my pant legs.
Wait a minute. It isn't the kids that need killing, its the parents.
Well, it's a cycle, those kids will grow up to be parents the way their parents were once kids...
Then it's decided. No witnesses.
On this note, I'm reading Dana King's "Wild Bill," and a bus boy took a few bullets and died. He was 16. I don't think there's as much controversy at that age, despite him being a minor. He was also a minor character, so maybe that makes a difference, too.
I don't think his being a minor character matters. And this situation differs in other ways also. That particular instance appeals very strongly to our sense of justice. This youngster was working a hard job, trying to live his life right even if it was hard and frequently hopeless. To have such a boy have his future taken away makes readers angry at the perps and at a world where such things happen. I haven't read Dana's book (yet), but a writer can do a lot with this scenario. (The same isn't true of the example given above, I think. That appeals merely to the prurient).
Hmmm, so would it be OK to contribute to the delinquency of a minor character?
Like "Lord of the Flies"?
Actually I think something about a little kid plotting and murdering a classmate could be an extremely powerful vehicle with a lot of levels to work with.
I'm getting in a little late on this discussion, but it sort of harks back to my first post ever on CrimeSpace, concerning the "gratuitous" killing of (fictional) animals in crime novels, of which I had encountered several that were grisly and, to my mind, unnecessary either for the advancement of the plot or anything else. At some point during that discussion we probably touched on the subject of child-killing. (In fiction).
Of course children and animals are killed "all the time" in real life, accidentally and otherwise. I'd just as soon not read a novel with a sensational gratuitous killing of an animal or a child, matter what its literary merit. I'm especially sensitive to cruelty to animals, (but don't care to bring up that discussion again), and also to the exploitation of children. Yet, sometimes those subjects become "necessary," even unavoidable.
If you're a writer, why DO you want to kill children in fiction? The WHY is key. Sensationalism? To advance a plot? Create a truly monstrous character, expose the workings of his (or her) mind, and bring him to justice? Shock a reader out of a sense of complacency about the world we live in?
Maybe that is the only "really" good reason: to create awareness about something that is going on in our society, to call attention to the issues that created that situation or emerged from it, and ask questions about how it should be addressed.
Lots of top crime writers have dealt with subject of child victims: Patricia Cornwell, Elizabeth George, Karin Fossum (The Water's Edge) are three that come to mind right away---and all did it in an "acceptable" way.