Random (but not really)

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Representation in Books: Injury

I’ve reached the point in life where very few people my age haven’t been laid up with an in injury or serious illness at some point, so they are in our conscious now. And disability (either in ourselves, friends or family members) is also something with which we have become familiar.become

Requiem for Mr. BusybodyBut even when I was younger, I knew about these things from reading.

And I knew those TV shows and movies where the hero is knocked in the head and jumps right up, or is shot and walking around by the end credits were bullshit.

Recovery takes time. And you don’t always get back what you had before. So you learn to cope and accept these changes are the new normal.

When I think about injury and recovery, the book that always jumps immediately to mind is Robert B Parker’s Small Vices.

In chapter 35 Spenser is shot and goes into the “not quite frozen” river. In Chapter 36, Spenser, Hawk, and Susan drive across the country, where Spenser will spend more than half a year recovering.

What astounds me every time is that in three chapters you fully get the sense of how much work Spenser had to do—and how long it took him to do it.

About a quarter mile from the house was a hill that went up sharply at right angles to the much gentler hill we lived on. Each morning, Hawk and Pearl and I walked up to the foot of the hill and looked at it. Actually Pearl dashed. Hawk walked. I shuffled. But after the first week I shuffled without holding on. Pearl would race up the hill, barrel chested and wasp waisted. Bred to run for hours, she rubbed it in every day, looking puzzled that I couldn’t do at all what she did so effortlessly.

— Robert B Parker, Small Vices, Chapter 37

Small Vices

 

“Here we go,” I said.

We started up. I was half dragging my left leg. Hawk walked slowly beside me. On the right there was a lemon grove, the wet fruit glistening among the green leaves. Nobody seemed to be harvesting it. The fruit was yellow and heavy on the trees and littered the ground, some of it rotting beneath the trees. I was gasping for breath. I looked up and the mailbox was still thirty yards away.

“No reason not to stop and rest,” Hawk said.

I nodded. I looked back. The wet black road surface gleamed. I was twenty yards up the hill and I couldn’t talk. We stood silently together in the steady rain. I was wearing an Oakland A’s baseball cap, and white New Balance sneakers, jeans, and a bright green rain jacket that Susan said was the ugliest garment she’d ever seen legalized. In the left-hand pocket the Detective Special weighed about two hundred pounds.

“How . . . high . . . is . . . this . . . hill?”

“Never measured it,” Hawk said. “Takes me ’bout ten minutes to walk up, five minutes to run.”

— Robert B Parker, Small Vices, Chapter 38

 

Hawk and I went up into one of the canyons back in the hills and began to shoot. I held the gun in both hands, though my left was doing all the work, and I was able to level it mainly by pulling my right arm up with my left. My only success was that I didn’t shoot myself. I was up to five-pound dumbbells. With my right arm I was actually moving the weight, curling it maybe halfway so that my forearm was at right angles to my biceps.

— Robert B Parker, Small Vices, Chapter 39

 

Chapter 39 ends with this:

One morning I ran up the hill. All the way.

— Robert B Parker, Small Vices, Chapter 39

 

Then we’re back to the mystery.

But in those three chapters—27 pages—you can feel just how far Spenser had to go to recover, and just how hard he had to work to achieve that recovery. I’ve read (and listened) to that book more times than I can count, and every time I am shocked by how short the recovery chapters really are, because in the story I feel the work and the struggle and the time.

 

The Wolf at the Door Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series also does a good job of showing the aftermath of a life-changing injury.

Prior to the start of the story, Cooper took three slashes to his abdomen, with permanent damage to his digestive system.

He was supposed to eat small meals frequently throughout the day to allow his shortened small intestine to absorb the necessary amount of nutrients, but it was hard to do on the road. Cooper didn’t want to draw attention to himself as weak or, god forbid, stopping everything when a boy was missing so that he could get a snack. His guts would just have to deal.

— Charlie Adhara. The Wolf at the Door

What I appreciate so much about this story is that not only does this problem not disappear from the series, it’s appearance in subsequent books shows you glimpses of Cooper and Oliver’s relationship.

Ever since then Park had been hyper-vigilant that Cooper was getting enough nutrition. He often cooked him little omelets in the morning before Cooper woke, had started researching supplements and vitamins he thought Cooper should take, and packed snacks for him on cases as if he was a child.

— Charlie Adhara, The Wolf at Bay

 

They’d fallen into a habit of Cooper shopping and Park cooking since if left to his own devices Cooper often went weeks uninterested in meals that required more than three or four steps, his relationship with food having changed a lot since his gut had been torn up and he’d spent months not being able to eat “real” food.

— Charlie Adhara. Cry Wolf

Cooper’s life was irrevocably changed after the attack, but it goes on. Although he changes jobs, he remains capable of doing the work he loves. (This series also shows Cooper doing the work of realizing he has PTSD from his attack and then slowly—slowly—getting better.)

Plus, action, mystery, and werewolves. What’s not to love?

Neither of these books dwells on the subject, but they make it clear that being in a dangerous line of work can lead unexpected (and unwanted) life changes.

I’ve also found that scenes while someone is recovering can further the characters and the story.

Mercy Thompson was badly hurt fighting a monster.

“And do you know, when you have a broken hand and a giant cut under your arm, crutches don’t work, and neither does a wheelchair unless you have a minion to wheel you around. My good hand is burnt, so I can’t even turn circles.”

I was tired of everyone, which was ungracious of me. But I don’t like being dependent— it makes me cranky. I needed someone to carry me upstairs and downstairs. I needed someone to help me outside and inside. I even needed someone to help me into the bathroom because none of the bathroom doors were big enough for a wheelchair.

— Patricia Briggs, River Marked

Which is followed by this:

“Mercy,” (Stefan) said gently. “It’s not that they don’t want to help— they can’t. You’ve told them all to leave you alone. With Adam gone, you’re the highest power in the pack, and they can’t gainsay you. Warren told me that they were down to leaving you with pack members he couldn’t be happy about.”

That had never occurred to me. And explained why Auriele and Darryl hadn’t been back, even after I’d sent them an e-mail apologizing for yelling at them. I know e-mail apologies are lame, but it was the only way I could be sure not to grump at them some more.

“You need to tell them they can come back to the house and talk to you— and help you do whatever you need. Just as you would help them if they needed it.”

— Patricia Briggs, River Marked

That scene is powerful because we learn about how the pack works, and also because we see Mercy bend and accept help from those around her.

The pain of a major injury is awful, but in some ways, being completely dependent upon others is harder. It’s an important reminder we do not exist in isolation and it’s not just okay to ask for help when you need it—it’s important to do so.

And that goes for mental health as well as physical health.

Mystery at the Masquerade

 

Then there is concussion.

 

There is more awareness than there was two decades ago, but the fastest way for a book to piss me off is for a character to be knocked unconscious and then all but jump up and dive right back into danger.

A concussion isn’t a convenient plot point.

“(T)he thing is, you’ve suffered a concussion. That’s a brain injury. In your case, the injury appears to be mild, but symptoms can manifest even several days after the traumatic event.”

“I know. I run a mystery bookstore. Ninety percent of injuries suffered by characters in mysteries are concussions.”

Dr. Mane laughed, although Ellery was being serious. “Sure, but it’s not like in the books or in movies. Your brain needs time to heal, which can take seven to fourteen days. Ten is the average.”

“Ten days?” Ellery gaped at him.

“On average.”

— Josh Lanyon, Mystery at the Masquerade

 

They were given a long list of things Martin couldn’t do for a couple of weeks with his concussion, which included reading or looking at anything on a screen.

— Ada Maria Soto, His Quiet Agent

Madison Square MurdersI am glad we are better educated about the dangers of concussion—both short term and long term consequences. But we still need regular reminders that head injuries are serious and can takes days, weeks, or even months to recover from.

And ignoring the doctors’ restrictions can lead to further injury or even death.

Sure, it’s not really fund and exciting to have a character in the hospital, or going through a long, slow recovery, but it’s a reminder for us that injuries aren’t something to be taken lightly. A reminder that we continue to learn and grow even when we can’t do things on our own.

The trouble with having a limp was that it was nearly impossible to execute a proper stomping. That wasn’t the only trouble, of course, but it was the inconvenience that most vexed Evie at present.

— Alissa Johnson, McAlistair’s Fortune

Another thing many of these books—especially romances—show is how some of the mechanics of sex may need to change after a serious injury, but those physical changes don’t end the sex life of the characters. Being me, that’s about all I want to say on the subject, but it is an important aspect of life, and putting such discussions and scenes in books is important because it lets people see that their physical changes aren’t an end, just a change.

Injury and recovery are a part of life, so I’m always glad to see them in fiction.

 

 


 

Main Characters

– Romance –

His Quiet Agent (2017) Ada Maria Soto, concussion

Merlin in the Library (2018) Ada Maria Soto, concussion

McAlistair’s Fortune (2009) Alissa Johnson (Providence Series) injury (accident)

Connection Error (2016) Annabeth Albert (#gaymers) amputation (war)

Arctic Wild (2019) Annabeth Albert (Frozen Hearts) injury (accident)

The Soldier’s Scoundrel (2016) Cat Sebastian (The Turner Series) injury (war)

Whiteout (2017) Elyse Springer (Seasons of Love) concussion (accident)

Sympathy (2009) Jordan Castillo Price injury (accident)

 

– Fantasy –

Widdershins, (2006) Charles de Lint, injury (attack)

Charlie Adhara‘s Big Bad Wolf series, injury (attack)

The Wolf at the Door (2018), The Wolf at Bay (2018), Thrown to the Wolves (2019), Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (2020), Cry Wolf (2021)

River Marked (2011) Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson) injury (attack)

 

– Mystery –

Lessons in Discovery (2009) Charlie Cochrane (Cambridge Fellows) concussion (accident)

Madison Square Murders (2021) CS Poe (Momento Mori) concussion (attack)

A Dangerous Thing (2002) Josh Lanyon, concussion

Somebody Killed His Editor (2009) Josh Lanyon (Holmes & Moriarity) concussion

Requiem for Mr. Busybody (2020) Josh Lanyon, injury (accident)

Mystery at the Masquerade (2021) Josh Lanyon (Secrets & Scrabble) concussion (attack)

Lissa Kasey‘s Haven Investigations series, concussion (attack)

Model Exposure (2017), Model Investigator (2017)

Small Vices (1997) Robert B Parker (Spenser) injury (attack)

Skin and Bone (2002) TA Moore, concussion (attack)

 

Why Representation in Books Is Important
Mental Health Representation in Books: Depression
Mental Health Representation in Books: Anxiety
Mental Health Representation in Books: PTSD
Mental Health Representation in Books: Addiction and Eating Disorders
 

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