From Cujo to Precious, five tragedy-porn books and the films they inspired

Categories: Lists, Literature

MoNique in her Oscar-winning performance in the tragedy-porn classic, Precious.
In author Sapphire's new novel, The Kid (a semi-sequel to Precious -- the Hollywood adaptation of her '96 novel, Push), we are treated to another relentless marathon of abuse, rape, failed dreams and unsettling conclusions. "Commercial media looks at things in terms of heroes and villains," Sapphire told us in advance of tonight's appearance at the Tattered Cover. "And we all know that the psychological reality of people is much more complex than that."

In honor of Sapphire's visit to Denver, we're taking a look at a handful of other "tragedy porn" books and the films they inspired:

Tragedy porn should never be confused with torture porn (Hostel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the novels of Dennis Cooper) or stories with a tragic plot (Romeo & Juliet, The Picture of Dorian Gray). With tragedy porn, the suffering is typically more cerebral and the tragedy is consistent throughout the story. Here's a brief summary of what it takes to make a good bummer of a story:

* No happy endings: While you may find yourself cheering for a protagonist, in this genre you cannot walk away feeling satisfied. Characters must either unexpectedly die or return to a misery equal to or greater than what they started with.

* No clear villains: Even if the story has an antagonist, at some point something will be revealed that will make you empathize with him/her/it.

* No fantasy: While novel adaptations like The Road or The Hunger Games relentlessly torture their protagonists, the stories exist in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world that separates the reader from their pain. Tragedy porn contains characters you can relate to in environments you recognize, making the horror all the more present.

* No levity: In these stories, any moments of hope, beauty or safety only serve to arouse the momentary sense that it may all work out, strengthening your bond to the protagonist -- and making the sting of disappointment all the more unbearable.

5.) Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby Jr.

The debut novel from a man who'd just spent three years half-dead in a hospital bed, Brooklyn is so unsettling it was held up in British courts on obscenity charges before becoming the Ginsberg-praised classic. The collection of short stories includes a drug-addicted transvestite prostitute who is humiliated, knifed and eventually run down by a car; the gang rape of a wet-brained con artist by a horde of sailors (at one point involving a broken broom handle); and a closeted homosexual union leader embezzling strike funds to lavish on a drag queen. Last Exit to Brooklyn has horrified generations of readers with its hellish portrayal of the human experience, yet Selby maintains it was based mostly on his experiences growing up on the seedier side of Brooklyn. Its 1989 film adaptation pulled few punches in terms of bleakness, yet ultimately failed to capture the sense of doom and loss in Selby's prose. Darren Aronofsky came somewhat closer to achieving this with his 2000 adaptation of Selby's Requiem for a Dream.

Location Info


Tattered Cover Colfax Avenue

2526 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO

Category: General

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