Sunday, May 20, 2018

Angsty about Angst

Well, it’s been a minute here at the blog! I moved it to Wordpress, but then kind of forgot all about everything related to blogging and here were are, five years later, back at 1. Am I going to continue blogging? Likely not. The world moves fast, and I just prefer twitter, tbh.

BUT, that said, I may pull out the blog and dust it off for a post or two. #RomBkLove is a good reason to do exactly that.

When Ana asked me if I wanted to do this, the first topic that came to my mind was “angst.” It’s something I love in books, and since I recognize it, actively look for it, I figured it would be easy to put together a list of my favorite books that fit the bill. It WAS easy to put together this list, but the difficulty came when someone asked the question: How do you define angst?

Strangely enough, I’d never thought about it before. At least, not in any kind of way that I could put into words for someone else. Much like porn, I know it when I see it! But, also like porn, the definition can change from person to person. Now that I have thought about it for a bit, I guess I’ve settled on the definition of angst as a desperate yearning for something you cannot (or think you cannot) have. The idea of it consumes you, drives your actions, and generally makes you miserable. I think of it a lot like the tarot card Eight of Swords.  Her eyes are covered, she's bound, and she thinks she’s trapped. Looking at it, you might think the same. But, there is a path forward if only you would use your other senses to find it. A lot of the angst books are old people who may have done bad things, and they can’t see their way out of the downward spiral. They want so much to be better, and a lot of times they ARE, and everyone can see it but them. You want to hug them, then shake them, then hug them again.

The book that most encompasses my definition of angst is Anne Stuart's To Love a Dark Lord. Let me introduce you to the Earl of Killoran. The baddest bad boy to hold a title.

"If he hadn't been drunk at the time, Killoran would have simply ignored the letter. Unfortunately, he'd taken to drinking deeply of later -- it didn't fit the emptiness inside him or relieve his monumental ennui, but it made him less aware of the deficiencies in his elegant, comfortable life.

You can play "spot the angst qualities" right in that trope. Excessive drinking, Emptiness, Monumental ennui. It's a trail of cat nip for readers who love the tragically broken character. And, of course, Killoran is supposed to be THE WORST, but he's got a buried heart of...well, if not exactly
gold, at least some semi-precious stone or metal. You end up rooting for the self proclaimed bad boy who keeps doing good.

But, this book has not one, but TWO characters striving towards epic angst. Let me introduce you to Lady Barbara Fitzhugh. 

"She gave him no encouragement whatsoever, apart from the occasional cool smile. She hadn't yet been cruel to him, though that time would doubtless come. Sooner or later she would need to drive him away, before she was tempted by something she could never have." 

Is there anything better than a character who believes they are irredeemable finding out that they will get their happily ever after? 

Sometimes, the angst comes not from the person's sense of self worth, but from outside circumstances. It causes "brooding" which I toss in the angst category, but your mileage may vary. In the case of Callan Baird, hero of Melissa Blue's Kilted for Pleasure, he
was a different man before his wife died.

"Her lungs squeezed and she couldn't find the air to even ask another question or give him condolences. How could she when Victoria couldn't fathom the grief hinted at in his voice? Their eyes met and what she saw made her heart hurt for him. He laid the grief out for her now without trying to hide it by being rude or a pain in her ass. And it simply was an abyss."

You're rooting for him, for them, to move beyond that abyss into something that will make it all better.

Sometimes, the circumstances for the angst are both forced on you and self inflicted. My two favorite examples of that are Laura Lee Guhrke's The Marriage Bed  and Alisha Rai's Hate to Want You.  In one, circumstances and misunderstandings lead to a marriage of cold convenience where everyone thinks the spouses hate each other, including said spouses! But, really, they feel something entirely different for each other but don't quite know how to fix everything.

In the other, a huge family falling out causes two high school sweethearts to sever all contact...except for one night a year, when they can't help making their way back to each other.

Other angsty favorites:

And whichever books you recommend that are destined to become my new favorites!  How do you define angst, and which books do you love that feature it?