I don’t usually struggle with violence (gore, yes) – and I’ve read books a LOT more violent than Micah Nemerever’s These Violent Delights. And in fact, there are many books that deal with extensive physical/sexual abuse, neglect, and violence that I cherish deeply (Kindred; Educated; Pillars of the Earth; the list could go on endlessly). But I really struggled with the specific kind of violence in These Violent Delights, in which two young lovers decide to tie their fates together by committing a pre-meditated, violent crime.
In an afterward of the book, Nemerever acknowledges the influence of the Columbine shooting on this narrative, as well as the ensuing hysteria around teenage angst, disconnect, and desensitization to violence. Themes that, I would argue, are very important and worth addressing. And certainly these themes are addressed in the book, as well as the complex, dangerous nature of controlling relationships. However, these topics are addressed through the extensive thoughts of the two protagonists (and I do mean extensive – I would estimate that almost 90 percent of this novel is dedicated to character development and interiority), but spending several hundred pages deep in the thoughts and nuances of two angsty teenagers is not only a little exhausting, but when their angst leads to extreme and inexplicable violence without sufficiently changing them, it’s upsetting.
I’ve already mentioned that I don’t typically mind violence and I don’t mind being upset. I don’t mind extensive character development or interiority. But I do think all of these things need to pay off through some kind of illumination or revelation for the reader. That is, extensive violence and extensive interiority both need to be earned, warranted. Yet, when we come to the end of this book (no spoilers, don’t worry) I feel that the level of character transformation and revelation are too subtle to warrant the level of violence and extensive narration required to get there. That is, I didn’t feel any different about the characters, their mental health, or their actions after 450 pages as I did after 50.
All in all, this isn’t a book I would recommend to most readers simply given the slow pace and high level of violence, nor would I suggest it to my most literary friends (even those not deterred by “slow” or “violent) because while the narrative touches on important themes, I’m not convinced there is a needle in this haystack worth searching for.