Angst or No Angst?

rainbow I love happy endings, and I hate to cry. I know that is one reason that I gravitated to reading romances. Even in fifth grade, after reading Gone with the Wind, I knew that happy every after was a momentous necessity for me. In the nineties, I did read quite a few angst ridden romances secure in the knowledge that the author would not kill off the heroine or hero.

But over the last ten years, that has changed, and I have gradually eliminated books with torment and melancholy. My best guess is that this is related the loss of a family member and to my career, which at times encompasses situations that are distressing and heartbreaking. So now, I always scrutinize books, carefully, looking for hidden booby traps of angst, grief, and not quite happy endings. If I read the back blurb and it sounds iffy, then I am off to the message boards or reviews for spoilers. Not that this is a foolproof method. This past year, two authors, that I have a long history of reading, wrote books that ambushed me, and made me cry. The book that I read this past week had warning signs all throughout the book. With the introduction of the character, I knew that she was ill, not that the author said she was ill, but I knew. And I kept reading, erroneously assuming, she would be miraculously cured. However, I ended the book, with tears rolling down my face.

Now I don’t get neurotic about it. I can intellectually enjoy the book. I do appreciate the author’s genius in creating a fictional character that becomes so real to me, that I shed tears. At the time, I do think, “Wow, what a good book.” But give me a couple of days, and I distance myself from those emotions. I start internalizing the feelings almost immediately after finishing the book, suppressing the ambivalent ending, and of course that diminishes the impact. And with that, I tend not to re-read sad novels even if they have a happy ending. The other side of the coin, is if an author can make me laugh, the warm glow of a great book stays with me. Give me a book that makes me laugh, and I tend to think that is the best book ever written.

I read with some wonder, all the posts about people searching out tormented hero or heroines, loving the low lows and then the high highs. That seems as foreign to me as individuals jumping out of a plane, skydiving. Sure, I understand that a good cry can be cathartic but it not something that I seek out .

So what type of reader are you? Do you seek out the books full of torment, angst, and sadness? Does it make that happy every after more joyful or is there another reason? Do you feel that everyone needs a good cry? Or are you like me, in avoiding any hint of sorrow and heartache?

- Leigh Davis

24 thoughts on “Angst or No Angst?

  1. I like angst in historicals – Something Wonderful by Judith Mcnaught made me cry and its a keeper. Same goes for some of Mary Balogh books. I cannot stand angst in contemporary novels. And I will not read any book without a HEA / resolution in case of mysteries & adventure series. I realized that I dont have the enthusiasm to read through a lot of realism either and so pretty much do not read any other genre but for Romance, mysteries and adventure.

  2. I don’t mind a high drama/angst book as long as there will be a HEA the first time. I probably won’t be reading it again though. My re-reads tend to be light. Unless they’re paranormal, then the violence and angst is fine, its the realistic ones I can’t take.

    But there MUST be a HEA, I gave up on Nicholas Sparks as mentioned above years ago.

  3. Count me in with the angst lovers. I want the HEA ending, but I like grinding heartache (and a little humor) along the way. I can’t imagine that a book in which the hero or heroine is killed would really be classified as a romance. But a little emotional suffering is fine. :)

  4. I tend to gravitate to low-angst because I read for escapism. I’m a bit tired of the tormented hero because it is often used as an excuse for asshat behavior or used to elicit some sort of nurturing response from the readers. I don’t mind the tormented heroine that much. One of my favorite romance heroines (Leigh from Kinsale’s Prince of Midnight) is a tormented heroine.

  5. As a 67 year male psychologist who served in the USMC actual life has enough conflict, chaos and angst for me. As an English major in my undergraduate work I know about the classics etc. With life, my work and all who have come to me with their foibles and hurt in my entertainment I want happy endings. Mary Balogh is my favorite because her works are character driven not plot driven. For example, I have liked Stephanie Laurens for years but she lost her way with the Black Cobra series she just finished. Hated it. I do not want all the spy and mystery stuff. For me there is enough problem in living life and maintaining my relationship without adding fictional stress. This is true even in movies. Last night I tried watching Brothers. Could not handle it. Been there. Felt similar emotions. Give me the good feelings.

  6. I can only take occasional angst, depending on my life stress level.

    Frankly, my choice of reading material is on a monthly cycle. I tend to read romances & chick lit hormonally. And mysteries, SF, non-romantic fiction, and fantasy at other times.

    Am I weird? Do other readers do this?

  7. I especially hate it when an author builds up the romance/love story, and then sucker punches you in the end. (Hello, Nicholas Sparks?)

  8. To squick or not to squick (read it that is!) … that is the question. I can take a lot of angst but I can only take it once. Let me explain. My Lady Notorious is an all-time Fave Jo Beverley book for me — but when I read it I skip right over those scenes of torture and humiliation — once is sometimes enough. Like so many of you, if I’m unhappy or still a little down after reading a fairly angsty book, I’ll find a humourous chaser! Great blog Leigh :)

  9. I’m all about the angst. The harder the struggle to HEA is, the more rewarding when finally reached. If a book makes me cry, that’s instant entry to my keeper shelves.

    When I read (and write) romance, I want to *feel* and the angst pushes all the right buttons for me. I have found in recent years (which have included caregiving for more than one relative, the passing of same, estate issues DH’s health issues, and the rest of the foibles of life) that I can’t do light and frothy anymore. Nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t resonante with me; as said before, those stories, *for me* can feel too frivolous. Like getting a bowlful of whipped cream when I wanted steak.

  10. I love the angst! But, the MUST be an HEA or I’m outta there. (Which is why i HATED Gone With the Wind (in fact, I created my own happy ending by stopping when Rhett sweeps Scarlett up the stairs about 2/3 through the book and using my imagination thereafter!).

    I like funny and non-angsty too, but I love being emotionally wrenched by characters and what I love best about reading romance is, that unlike in real life, they get a HEA no matter what – so it all works out in the end.

  11. I like angst, but I have a friend who likes mainly happy, light contemporaries. If she reads an angsty book, she needs a light book right after-sort of an antidote. Or milk after cookies. I can do angst, angst, angst. As long as there is always my HEA safety net. I love seeing how the author’s going to pull it off when everything seems to be going wrong. More satisfying that way. We decided that I prefer my heros sarcatic and complex, and she likes witty with some goofy humor. Maybe that’s the difference too.

  12. quoting Magdalen:

    “But I really really don’t agree with authors who seem to think that all Bad Childhoods will work. Frankly, my experience is that some Bad Childhoods need something other than romance to fix. I disagreed vehemently with the presumption in Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series — those boys had been tortured; even allowing for gender differences in how we deal with abuse, I couldn’t believe all they needed was a kindly foster dad and then a hot babe.”

    Oh, that is a whole different subject and definitely one of my hot buttons too. . Very few authors handle psychological issues appropriately. . .especially rape. . .

  13. I am also low-angst. I occasionally will pick one that has some angst if I know in advance and am in the right mood. I really don’t like when a book starts out light and funny but then brings in something depressing like Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed. The ending in that book actually disturbed me for a few days – not what I’m after when I pick up a romance or chick lit book.

    That doesn’t mean I read only books by Julia Quinn but I definitely prefer to know in advance if a book contains depressing subjects. The angst-ridden books are maybe 10% of what I read.

  14. Like xina, I neither look for nor try to avoid books with angst. Generally speaking I like variety, so I usually alternate between light and emotionally charged reads.

    I will say, however, that if a novel has angst the HEA can be especially sweet. There is something very emotionally satisfying about seeing the hero and heroine attain happiness after undergoing trials and tribulations.

  15. Leigh — I love angsty goodness, but that’s not the same as the angst you’re talking about. I like bleak Black Moments that arise because of a real conflict and not merely a complication the characters need only chat over coffee to solve. My favorites are ones where one protagonist has to work that extra bit harder to find and solve the problem or impediment. But yeah, I like to cry before the *ahhhh* moment at the end.

    But I really really don’t agree with authors who seem to think that all Bad Childhoods will work. Frankly, my experience is that some Bad Childhoods need something other than romance to fix. I disagreed vehemently with the presumption in Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay series — those boys had been tortured; even allowing for gender differences in how we deal with abuse, I couldn’t believe all they needed was a kindly foster dad and then a hot babe.

    Also, honestly, a Bad Childhood is overkill in most instances. I think people do a fine job all on their own of getting in their own way. A nice bit of self-awareness followed by some elegant groveling and I’m a happy camper.

    Great subject, by the way. Thanks.

  16. Oh, I love the angst. I’m not against steamy, but I really like a long buildup to the action, and I love people working against obstacles to get to their HEA. Light and frothy just seem to irritate me…I don’t know why.

    • Hi Leigh,
      I vote with you. I need my books to be angst free. I especially never pick up a book anymore where something bad happens to a child (as a parent I just don’t need something to add to my anxiety). My worklife can be stressful, so I don’t want to watch or read something that is going to scare me or make me cry. Something that amuses me or just engages me is what I am looking for. Steamy romances are always good as well (keep the fires burning), and they are not likely to be a tear jerker.

  17. I find that I have trouble “shaking” a depressing book or movie. I wish books came with an “angst rating.” Like, WARNING: MAJOR CHARACTER DIES.

    There is so much to be depressed about in real life that I just don’t want that in my books. I read for pleasure and escapism. I read light suspense, fluffy romance, and even some light angsty books when the HEA ending is guaranteed. (I have even been known to turn to the end just to reassure myself that there is a HEA!)

  18. I can handle angst but sometimes the darkness does get to me. When it does, I wonder if the journey and the HEA was worth it. I’m reading the new
    Sarah Mayberry now. The father of the hero physically and emotionally abused him and his brother. And it doesn’t look like the dying father is seeking forgiveness for his past actions. After I am done reading this book, I know that I’ll want something lighter in tone to read.

  19. I generally go for low-angst. My life is full of reality: five teens and young adults going through the pains of growing up, a mother with Alzheimer’s, a dad who died young from cancer, creeping health issues of my own due to age (sigh), the economy, my aging in-laws, etc., etc. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life and a great husband, but I need for my entertainment to be mostly up-beat and fun because so much that I deal with daily is serious and tiring.

    I can handle well-written angst in a book as long as it is resolved satisfactorily. I don’t have to have a “hearts-and-flowers” ending, but I need *resolution!* All strings don’t need to be neatly tied up in unbelievable happy endings, but I want there to be hope and promise at the end of the story.

    I don’t read book after book with angst (or suspense books with graphic violence and evil). I rad more light books than emotionally charged ones. I also read depending on my life at the moment. I’m the opposite of Karen (above). ;-) When things are stressful in my life I read fluff. When things are going more smoothly I can read books that demand emotional investment. This is the reason I’m never sure which book I’ll read next. It all depends on my mood.

    Very good post, btw.

  20. As long as I know there will be a happy ending, I will go for the angsty books over the lighter ones every time. I find that this has not changed as I have grown older. I found myself so satisfied that the latest Carla Kelly book brought me to tears just like her older traditional Regencies did. One of the reasons I don’t read as many new books and find myself going back to my Keeper Shelves is the light, racey tone so prevalent now. I occasionally enjoy an author like Julia Quinn, but give me Mary Balogh in her prime every time.

  21. I love angsty books – as long as I know the HEA is there. Surprisingly, I enjoy angsty books the most when I’m having struggles in my own life. I remember feeling very comforted reading Mary Balogh’s regencies when I was undergoing cancer treatments. I find it uplifting to read about someone overcoming obstacles and finding happiness. When things are hard in my personal life, I find it difficult to “get into” the lighter books – they just feel too superficial to me. I’m more likely to enjoy a light and fun book when I’m in a great mood and feeling happy in my personal life.

  22. I do not seek it out (angst) or avoid it. If it’s there, it’s there and I just hope that the story can carry it off. However, I don’t read book after book filled with angst. I have to change it up regularly by reading something a bit lighter. I really get emotionally involved in a book I love, so if I read angst all the time, I’m going to be thinking about it quite a bit. Also, if I am reading a very dark book, I like to have a lighter one going too so I can go to that if the subject matter gets too heavy. Works for me.

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