One of the things I appreciate most about Melody Carlson’s contemporary fiction is its unfussy literary edge. She has such a masterful handle on the art of story as well as the pathos of human relationships on the brink of life-change.
Her newest, The Other Side of Darkness, takes the reader into the just-off-center world of a likeable woman flawed by her obsessive compulsive behavior and who loses herself within the legalistic confines of a toxic “church.” Ruth is not larger than life, she is believable, relatable and her frustrations are palpable. Sometimes in the reading, you just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake the weakness out of her. Only a character who seems real evokes that kind of response. And only a skilled writer can convince you her characters are real. You can read an excerpt here.
I asked my friend Melody to stop by the Edge to talk with me about this book. Here’s what she had to say:
Edge: Your main character battles with OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder. Did you learn things about this disorder during your research that surprised you?
Melody: The most surprising thing was that it’s a lot more common than I realized. One statistic said “one in forty” struggle with this disorder. Of course, there are varying levels–everything from the person who obsesses over public toilets to the person who cannot leave her house because she’s so debilitated with fear.
Edge: In your foreword to readers you tell us that fiction is often the most direct way to convey hard-to-tell truths. What hard-to-tell truths are expressed in The Other Side of Darkness? What makes these in particular hard to tell?
Melody: Most people with severe OCD do not want anyone to know about it. It’s a humiliating condition that is hard to understand and easy to poke fun of (think Monk the TV sitcom). Unfortunately, some OCD (untreated) will grow worse–possibly reaching the place where the sufferer can’t engage in normal activities. And unfortunately, isolation doesn’t help. What a person with OCD wants more than anything is control. And if they have religious connections, they will often fall victim to legalism as an answer to their situation. OCD is by nature a very legalistic disorder. So imagine a person, untreated, getting pulled into some kind of psuedo Christian cult–and the problems that could arise.
Edge: Also in your foreword you ask the question “what kind of person becomes a leader in a church that’s going sideways?” Did you find the answer in the writing of this book?
Melody: Because this book is inspired from a true story, I have first hand knowledge of a person who led others into a messed up church. In reality this person struggled with issues in relationship to his own father, unforgiveness, and anger. In the form of fiction, I made the pastor flawed in some other areas. I think one of the keys to bad leadership is unconfessed sin–it always sets up the leader to hurt others.
Edge: What takeaway do you offer the person who doesn’t have OCD and has never had a “toxic” church experience? What do you want the average reader to know that we didn’t know before?
Melody: If the statistics are correct or even close, it’s not unlikely that many people know someone who suffers from OCD. If this story encourages empathy and understanding toward a sufferer and if that leads them to getting help, support, encouragement, acceptance, I feel that it was worth the effort to write this book. People with OCD are some of the loneliest around.
Edge: Can you share what prompted you to write this book?
Melody: This book was inspired by the story of a loved one that I’d been close to for years. Unfortunately, we had moved a few hours away from her shortly before she went through this very dark time. And naturally she never called or worte to tell us about her problem. Instead, she got deeply involved in a very unhealthy congregation that took severe advantage of her and her fear. I never heard her story until after she had nearly taken her own life in total desperation and ended up in a lockdown treatment facility. That was more than ten years ago and it’s been a slow uphill climb, but she’s doing well now and we remain in fairly close contact. She wanted her story to be told so that others might not go down the same road that she traveled. Fortunately, for her, the other side of darkness turned out to be Light–it just wasn’t easy getting there.
Thanks, Melody. I was especially moved by your statement that people with OCD are some of the loneliest people out there. That hadn’t occurred to me before, but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for the eye-opener.
Want to win a free, signed copy of The Other Side of Darkness? Just reply to this post by Friday, Nov. 14. A random winner will be drawn.
Have a great weekend, Edglings