8 responses to “20 Depressing Reads”

  1. Sara Crow

    Pretty sure literature has lots more depression than elation. A few more for you all.

    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (this one may have a side effect of insanity)
    Watchmen by Alan Moore
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
    We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
    Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
    A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
    A Memory of Wind by Rachel Swirsky
    Greek Mythology (yeah, pretty much all of it)
    A Fair Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates
    The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
    Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
    Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
    There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby
    by Lyudmila Petrushevskaya
    Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
    Barefoot Gen, Volume One: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima (Barefoot Gen #1)
    by Keiji Nakazawa (pretty sure the outcome of this never gets much brighter, considering the subject matter)

    1. Sara Crow

      Hit “Submit” too soon–these are some of MY favorite “depressing” reads. A few on a very long list.

  2. Sara

    If literature and life have taught me anything, it’s that spasms of happiness are terrible inspiration for writing. So you all are very welcome. 😉

    I am almost done with Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, and I think maybe it should be a late addition to my list as well. Plus, Star Trek. You’ll understand when you read it.

  3. Dick Cummins class of '70


    Better add Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock to the list of grims.

    From a review by Dan Cryer: “Barely a crossroads southwest of Chillicothe, it’s a little patch of hillbilly Appalachia in southern Ohio – and trust me you wouldn’t want to live there.

    “As chronicled in Donald Ray Pollock’s exhilarating debut story collection, Knockemstiff, it’s an alternative universe to the American dream. On these pages, dirt-poor provincials despair of a life lived on junk food in trailers. Jobs are scarce. Sex is brutish and loveless. Fistfights erupt out of the smallest slights, pathetic proof of a man’s existence.

    “Drugs, not religion, offer the only solace — however fleeting. Let me tally the scourges in Knockemstiff: – mescaline, speed, crack, Oxycontin. Bodybuilders inject steroids. Nursing home aides steal prescriptions. One down-and-outer sniffs Bactine. Another scarfs up drugs intended for his girlfriend’s stroke-victim father.

    “So don’t ever go there … [except to read the stories that are written in] vigorous, high-tension prose and glimpse the other side of the tracks … if Garrison Keillor invites us into a village where all the women are strong, the men good-looking, the children above average, Pollock presides over a community of the uniformly obese, drug-addled and desperate.” (And them’s the pretty ones.)

  4. Robert Morse

    Johnny Got His Gun — Dalton Trumbo
    Sister Carrie — Theodore Dreiser
    Breathing Lessons — Anne Tyler
    Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut
    The Member of the Wedding — Carson McCullers
    Something Happened — Joseph Heller
    1984 — George Orwell
    The Iceman Cometh — Eugene O’Neill
    A Streetcar Named Desire — Tennessee Williams
    Edwin Mullhouse — Steven Millhauser (This is at least as annoying as it is depressing)
    “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (short story) — Flannery O’Connor
    “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” (short story) — Flannery O’Connor
    Beneath the Wheel — Hermann Hesse
    Sophie’s Choice — William Styron
    Mother Night — Kurt Vonnegut
    “‘night, Mother” (play) — Marsha Norman
    “Death of a Salesman” (play) — Arthur Miller

  5. Dick Cummins

    Eric – more on ‘Knockem’ – from two reviews:

    Richard Garn – … a homeless rapist, a woman who carries fish sticks in her purse, a woman who forces her son to role-play an insane intruder, and a man who pumps his son full of steroids that eventually kill him so that he could be, had he survived, Mr. South Ohio …. The blub (Entertainment weekly 2008) had little to do with the book’s content but instead fetishized Pollock, calling him an heir to Raymond Carver, some kind of backwoods redneck who had somehow slipped through the backdoor of the literati’s slowly-crumbling ivory tower.

    Pollock humbly responded … by saying that it was better than being compared to Danielle Steele.


    Pollock, now in his fifties, is currently an MFA student at Ohio State University. Another angle the little blurb took was pointing out how unlike any other coffee house-type MFA student Pollock, no doubt, is.

    One should hope…when Entertainment Weekly compares Pollock to Carver they aren’t far off … there is nothing Chekhovian about these shorts; these are anything but charming slices of middle class life – these are quick, rapid fire pieces that strike like whip cracks.

    To compare this to Carver would be like comparing Jack Daniels to Kool Aid. ‘Knockemstiff’ is a setting where Carver would not dare trespass. And if he did, he’d wind up on a milk carton. But Pollock is similar to Carver in one way: much like Carver during his time at the MFA program at Iowa, Pollock, still at Ohio State, could be a major American author on the rise.

    David Rodriguez: “… the narrator says, “I found myself wishing I had a loved one who would die and leave me their barbiturates, but I couldn’t think of anyone who’d ever loved me that much.”

    Perhaps no other sentence in Pollock’s devastating stories states so movingly the plight of the protagonists and their community … (he) populates it with a huge cast of degenerates, freaks, fetishists, Bactine huffers, bodybuilders, draft dodgers, drug dealers, alcoholics, and the homeless, the obese, the incestuous, and the criminally insane – all of whom share a common dream of escape (and like I said Eric – them’s the pretty ones!) … violence erupts all over Pollock’s town with the suddenness of a Denis Johnson story…

    Once Pollock gets in his groove, we’re never relieved of our dread. I’d think it’d be a difficult exercise to tell a group of writers that one character must say, “You’re not gonna screw that, are you?” and then have his friend do something that is even more horrifying than if he had.

    This is what happens in “Pills,” the fifth story in the collection and the first where I began to believe that Pollock wasn’t merely a good writer telling … stories with technical proficiency, but rather a powerhouse whose extremely quick, nimble plots (the longest of which is fifteen pages) are as immediate and satisfying, riveting and draining as any new short fiction I’ve read in a while.

    I picked this book up because I spent time in a town somewhat like Knockemstiff, and I wanted to see someone capture more than just the Midwest ennui – rather, the feeling of being on a sinking ship, of inevitable failure, of living in a community where no one seems to even be trying anymore to get along.

    That feeling is here in these stories … they dream big, act bold, and sacrifice everything to make it to the Ohio border, and you cannot help but relate to them when they say that ‘love is a gift of barbiturates’, because we all want some form of love that will transcend this world we’re trapped in.

    So Eric – pretty good no? – Sure makes my hometown public housing projects sound like one of John Irving’s Swiss boarding schools! … Also sure hope going for an MFA doesn’t ruin Pollock; I can see him sitting in the Mill of Columbus, letting a trust-fund swell from Princeton buy him pitchers of Michelob – trying desperately to get this ‘Knockemstiff’ guy to accept an anthology of Henry James to take home – for some badly needed amelioration. dc

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