Buckle up, it's time for more navel-gazing introspective wankery!
Every now and then you come across a book that grips you in a way that leaves you feeling a sense of loss (and well, lost) when you turn the last page.
Yesterday, I finished Cemetery Road by Greg Isles. It had it all; believable, ordinary characters acting in ways that made sense, protagonists and (nominal) villains alike, wrapped up in a world that carried so many self-consistent details to make me wonder if the story was at least partially autobiographical. And the emotional punch of a Mack truck.
But now I must digress.
I used to be a voracious reader. If I'm honest it was mostly about escape, immersing myself in other folks' imaginary worlds that were somehow much more real, making more sense than the one I was inhabiting.
I quickly developed a preference for science fiction, mainly the "indistinguishable from magic" dreck that remains the reason the genre is still lumped together with Fantasy, but there was something intangible about certain stories or authors that stuck with me.
In college (and beyond) my reading dropped way off due to the realities of quasi-adult life, but at some point afterwards I (re-)discovered two things; audio books and compilations of short stories. So my "reading" picked up again, mostly consumed during 20-minute commutes or the occasional road trip.
These consisted mostly of serials, with their established characters and worlds and their well-trodden escapist adventures (and/or descents into darkness), but as time went on I'd increasingly mix in more standalone books by unfamiliar (to me) authors across a wider variety of genres, plus the occasional short story anthology.
In hindsight, there have been several core themes to books (or more accurately, stories) I've really liked -- at its heart, science fiction is philosophical in nature, exploring the human condition via "what-if" speculation, but the dives beyond the boundaries of mind and self are what still get me tingly.
As I've (presumably) matured into middle age and my general awareness (both of my self and the world about me) has grown, the scale and scope of my own possible futures have shrunk. I don't know how much I wanted to change (or escape from?) the world via some sort of grand adventure, but I've come to recognize that "adventure" is really just a childish way to say that you did something, it affected people, and you learned something along the way.
So even a trip to the grocery store can be an adventure, and perhaps more importantly, I already have, and continue to, change the world.
Which brings me to Cemetery Road.
Cemetery Road was one of those random mix-ins. It's cliche, but I really did pick it up due to its cover, and put it on my audio player despite its generic-meh "death and dark secrets in a southern town" plot synopsis, because there seemed to be something more there.
It turned out to be a deeply personal story; of the importance of family and escaping the shadows of our parents; of accepting our own truths, flaws and self-betrayals; of love, pain, and forgiveness; of good works and the passage of time. But most of all, it is about about middle age and growing up.
... Not bad for a book that takes place over just six days!
You don't need speculative science fiction to explore the human condition. You don't need epic, world-shattering supernatural battles between good and evil. You just need ordinary people living their ordinary lives.
Don't fall for a magic world We humans got it all Every one of us Has a heaven inside -- Kate Bush
Ordinary people. Like you. Or me.