It has been a while since I last did a Six Degrees chain. Life got a lot busy over the summer, and I haven’t been reading as many books as usual, never mind keeping up with my fellow bloggers. But here I am, only five days late (what do you mean, more like four months late?), and to celebrate, I’m going to do things properly this time, and not count the first book in the chain as part of my six. Hooray!
The Outsiders by S E Hinton is the start of this month’s Six Degrees book chain. I’ve never read it or seen the film, so let’s see where I end up.
The title puts me in mind of the novel I’ve just finished reading, which features a pair of teenage girls who are thrown together at school because of their outsider status.
Ponti is the debut novel of Sharlene Teo. Its title refers to a monstrous ghost from Indonesian folklore, the Pontianak. The Pontianak is a woman who has lost a child in childbirth and wreaks her revenge on men by using her beauty to entice them to her before devouring them.
This made me think of Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. The protagonist of this novel is a woman who has suffered a severe disfigurement and meets a trans woman while in hospital for surgery. Neither woman goes by their real name, and they are linked to each other in more ways than meeting at the hospital.
Hidden links and secret identities are a theme in Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, which is also about people who don’t fit society’s idea of ‘normal’ – whatever normal is. I read this book ten years ago and still think about the characters today. It’s one of my husband’s favourite books.
My husband bought me a copy of another of his favourite books, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which features a cast of monstrous outsiders, headed up by Ignatius J Reilly, a man who disdains the rest of humanity and believes himself utterly superior.
Men who hold delusions of superiority and have cast themselves out of society litter one of my favourite books, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. Enoch Emery possesses the titular wise blood, and believes himself to be a prophet guided not by a god but by his own innate knowledge of the world. Hazel Motes is an atheist who, on leaving the army and finding himself without a family, starts his own anti-religious ministry, gaining Emery as an acolyte in the process. Asa Hawks is a con artist pretending to be a blind preacher who accidentally becomes Motes’s nemesis. Their story is told with a black humour that accentuates their monstrousness.
A pair of deluded outsiders appear in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a telling of a true crime that reveals the human condition in all its complexity. These men were labelled as monsters for their crimes. Capote peeled that label back to examine what it takes to create a monster and whether monster is a helpful term or a disguise to stop the rest of society thinking too deeply about cause and effect.
So my chain has started with the idea of being an outsider, introduced outsiders who are considered monstrous by society, half of whom are self-aware and play with the fact that their differences mean they are viewed as monsters, and half of whom have no insight into their outsider status and therefore become actual monsters, brutalising the people around them. Quite a leap from a coming-of-age novel. And yet, not that big a leap, because all the characters in the books in my chain experience difficulties in their adolescence that influence who they become in adulthood.
We’re all just a whisker away from being monsters, I guess.