Previously I've stated that I am not fond of what I call "ugly fiction"--fiction that describes ugly, mean, cruel, or otherwise completely distasteful subjects, for no reason whatsoever (unless that reason is to cash in on morbid curiosity). Jodi Picoult is my favorite example of an ugly fiction author--take ugly topics like school shootings, using healthy children as donors for your unhealthy children, etc., wrap them up in schmaltz, sell millions of copies.
After reading--and loving--Irvine Welsh's latest novel, Crime, I may have to rethink my heading of "ugly fiction." Because this book is about as ugly as it gets: Ray Lennox, of the Edinburgh police, takes some mental-health time off after a particularly nasty murder case involving a young girl. Traveling to Florida for a vacation with his fiancee, Trudi, Lennox is unable to escape his demons, and finds himself alone in a bar hoping to score some cocaine. He gets more than he bargained for: going home with two women, he is there, and high, when other men arrive at their home to join the party, and one of them tries to molest one of the women's pre-teen daughters. Lennox rescues the girl and eventually ends up removing her from the home and trying to get her elsewhere for safety. To make a long story short: he's stumbled on a pedophilia ring, where men get to know single mothers with drug or other issues and then take advantage of their pre-pubescent children.
Okay, that's about as ugly as it gets.
And yet, I loved the book. I loved Welsh's most well-known book, Trainspotting (book and movie version), as well, but I haven't been able to finish anything else of his before this novel. I tried--I love Scottish and British authors, so I always picked up his new books, but I just couldn't get into them. So why this one?
For all its ugliness, I don't get the feeling Welsh was writing about it to cash in on "ripped from the headlines" stories. His characters are complex; I loved Ray Lennox and felt terribly for him and the things he must have seen as a cop. His relationship with Tianna, the ten-year-old girl, is also written very well--he doesn't really want to get in the middle of that situation but he can't quite get himself to leave her until he can leave her somewhere safe. And, just like he did in Trainspotting, Welsh left me with the feeling that, while there are many very ugly things in this world, sometimes it is possible to get through them. That's the difference, I think. Reading ugly Welsh books makes me feel like there might still be hope, even in the presence of despair; reading ugly Picoult books makes me despair that I'll never have hope again.
Either way, I may need to rethink the broad heading "ugly fiction." Maybe "ugly fiction" and "ugly sellout fiction"?