So we love suspense literature because it reminds us of this while reassuring us it’s happening to someone else. The same reason we slow down to see the bodies of a car wreck: horror and obsession. Trying to understand death. Hoping, perhaps, for a clue that something survives.
And so we love risk. We climb cliffs and jump from airplanes, drive too fast, live as dangerously as we dare, and sometimes kill ourselves in the process. Why? Because risk and suspense are living deeply.
At times when my own life has been most in danger, although terrifying, are among those I’ve lived most deeply and instinctively. Danger brought me back to my primeval bones, an atavistic hunger to survive.
Suspense reminds us of our mortality and deepens our hunger for life. And a good novel can put us so deeply into its suspense that we become silent characters – terrified, loving, joyous or sad – just like the others. Begging for one outcome yet dreading the worst. As if it were really happening to us. And the experience can change us.
As a human rights and war journalist in Guatemala in the mid-1980s during the most atrocious years of the US-backed military dictatorship, I lived in constant suspense. The Army and the death squads had killed, “disappeared” or tortured to death over a quarter million people, including more than 150 journalists. At one point I was the only foreign journalist left.
I finally had to leave fast and reached the airport but the airline wouldn’t take my credit card. The death squad folks were on their way. The airline clerk asked if I had an American Express card. I happened to have one that had been sent to me as a promotion just before I left for Guatemala. I gave him that and got out to Mexico City minutes before they would have killed me. My life was saved by an AmEx card I had never even asked for.
That story is part of why I wrote HOUSE OF JAGUAR. To put my readers so deeply in that place and time that it changes them as it did me, that they share the terror and uncertainty, the moments of victory, love and joy. It’s that experience that helps to make us wise, living with suspense and learning from it.
To comment on Mike Bond’s blog please click here.