The Forest of Feelings: Drag Me Through Discomfort

Welcome to the inaugural edition of my new monthly feature.  If you’ve been following my reviews and social media posts, then you already know that I sit in my feelings often. I’m not always reveling in melancholy either, despite the way it seems based on some of my reviews. I’ve made a joke a time or two about filing certain books in the Forest of Feelings, and now I intend to do just that within this monthly post. Each month I’ll focus on a specific emotion and discuss books that gave me that feeling.

Let’s talk about DISCOMFORT.

I love books and films that take me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes my reading or viewing experiences in this realm lead me to discover new interests and favorites, and other times, I find that I do have some boundaries I’d rather not cross in the future. Either way, it’s always a learning experience.

Here are some books that made me uncomfortable, along with my thoughts on each reading experience:

MONSTERS AND ANIMALS by JF Gonzalez & Wrath James White

SURVIVOR by JF Gonzalez

I’ve listed these two together, because the first one is a prequel to the latter. Monsters and Animals are two novellas bound together which introduce the reader to some of the characters found in the world of Survivor. Let me tell you, I struggled with the first one, but I was still intrigued enough to pursue reading Survivor, because I’m a fan of the author’s work, and I’d heard so much about how it was a seminal work in the extreme horror genre. There are scenes in both of these books that I will never ever erase from my mind. I will not give spoilers, so please read the synopsis if you’re planning to dig into either book. I’ve never talked much about either, as I found it hard to formulate a review or any kind of rating. I can understand why others consider Survivor to be an important piece of fiction, but it was not for me. There were two or three points in the story when I almost DNF because it crossed some boundaries I was unaware I had until then. Despite that, I kept reading, because I felt compelled to know how it ended. It’s an effective piece of fiction, because it leaves a lasting impression on the reader, and makes you wonder how much of the depravity in the story goes on in the darkest corners of reality. This story takes you through many emotions, most of which hurt. Despite these things, I struggled to find deeper meaning to it. I honestly don’t think I’ll keep it on my shelf, but I also can’t imagine donating my copy anywhere, so for now it stays in my book piles.

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS by Bryn Greenwood

This book is why I don’t read many reviews until I’ve finished a read myself. Based on the synopsis, I knew it touched on taboo topics, and I was intrigued. I read some reviews on GoodReads prior to reading this book, many of which were unfavorable. I felt like it was affecting my view of the story before I even started, so I went ahead and jumped in and decided to form my own opinion. I ended up loving this story. It’s still one of my favorite non-horror novels ever. Again, you can read the synopsis and see for yourself why it’s controversial, but I’d recommend going into it with an open mind if possible. There are many uncomfortable moments, but the payoff is worth it with this unforgettable story.

BITTERSWEET by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

It’s been a few years since I read this, but this is another book that I still think about on occasion. It’s mainly focused on relationships between the characters, and it put me through a range of emotions. What starts as a tale of friendship between two women from different sides of the tracks delves into much more. This is also a great summertime read, as it takes place during the main characters’ summer break from college.

BY BIZARRE HANDS by Joe R. Lansdale

This was my first Lansdale read, and a great place to start with his work. It’s a collection of short fiction, and several of the stories left me stunned and feeling complicit in the characters’ actions. He’s an author that is not afraid to take his characters to dark places. I loved that it made me uncomfortable, yet there was depth and purpose to each story. In my review for this book, I wrote the following, which sums it up:

“The stories in this collection are memorable. The writing is unapologetic, and a perfect blend of great storytelling elements. The dialogue and setting are often characters in their own right, and the human characters themselves are what seal the deal in each of these tales. Most of the stories in this book have no hint of the supernatural, and are further proof that it’s not a necessity in order for horror to be effective. In this collection, Lansdale has written some of the most frightening stories I’ve ever read, with the majority of them based on human monsters. The characters are real, raw, and often downright vile. In these tales, I’ve come across some of the most memorable antagonists I’ve ever encountered. As I was reading, I often felt like I was watching crime unfold from the sidelines—like I couldn’t stop watching in horror, and I was helpless to stop it.”

ODD MAN OUT by James Newman

An uncomfortable read that will break your heart and open your eyes to some of the bullying and injustice that goes on in real life. It’s a novella, so it’s a quick read, but it packs a punch. I squirmed in discomfort, wishing I could do something to help the protagonist. Newman’s writing is top-notch, and this is one readers can’t erase from their mind once it’s there.

GONE TO SEE THE RIVER MAN by Kristopher Triana

My most recent review was for this book, and it’s easily accessible, so I will give you a quick rundown on this one. As with the other books on this list, this one dragged me through many moments of discomfort, but I could not turn away. It’s heavy on grief, guilt, and shame. You won’t leave this story unscathed, but if you’re like me, you’ll be left stunned at its effectiveness in making you feel.

So, there you have it—this month’s trip through my feelings, with a closer look at some reads that dragged me through discomfort. In most cases, it was well worth the ride. For September, I’ll be tackling the topic of FEAR. I hope you’ll join me as I discuss the books that left me frightened.