It’s difficult to explain why I love tragic stories in fiction so much. It’s not that I enjoy tragedy, but I’m drawn to it because I find solace in these stories. Real tragedies hurt too much. Fictional tragedies hurt just enough.
The real world is painful, unfair, and unforgiving. Injustice, war, murder, abuse, racism, hunger, violence… The real world is often a horrible place, and I find solace in fiction that reflects that. I read realistic fiction, but not non-fiction. For me, reading tragic fiction is like viewing a solar eclipse through a pinhole projector. To view the sun directly would be too painful.
The most beautifully written tragedy that I return to again and again is Ian McEwan’s Atonement. The story unfolds in a unique and surprising way that resonates in my core and haunts me in a way that I love. The same way that someone finds solace in sad songs after a breakup, I take comfort in sad stories when there is a buildup of Bad in the universe.
So, fiction is a place where I retreat. The brightness of a romcom can be nauseating; bouncy pop music, ridiculous noise. This is not to say that I don’t also love lighthearted, joyful stories as well. I certainly find great pleasure in happy endings, but happy endings are more like fantasy. Fictional tragedies help me understand the world better. They simultaneously break and soothe my heart.