How often do you find in a story a character like yourself? Physically or emotionally, characters embody traits like ours. Maybe you share a haircut or hometown or you both went through breakups recently. Finding similarities fosters a connection, a desire to walk together through the story. After gaining my disability, it was hard initially to find peers so I definitely looked for characters living with blindness on pages and screens.
Over the years here on Adventures in Low Vision, I’ve reviewed books, movies, and TV shows featuring blind characters. Some portrayals impressed me and entertained me, some did not. But none of the art I consumed allowed me to see perhaps how the artist’s perspective grew. Until now.
When the last nights of summer turn cool, autumn anticipation peaks. It’s my favorite time of year to dive into thrillers and mysteries with some mulled cider or herbal tea. Once a writer’s storytelling hooks me I like to work through their back catalog, delighted with recurring characters. One book may be finished, but there’s more action in the series. Maybe you do that, too.
I dealt with teenage angst with the absorbing stories of Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Crichton, and John Grisham. Stephen King and James Patterson books peppered my next decade as well as suspense novelist Tess Gerritsen. Lately I’ve followed Chelsea Cain and Tana French mysteries, but there’s one writer whose compelling and addictive page-turners ensnared me even tighter, Southern crime writer Karin Slaughter.
First let’s talk about that name. It’s not a pen name, and this master of murderous thrillers lives up to it. Yes, people die terrible deaths in her novels, but she tells her stories in such a way it’s not gratuitous violence or victim-blaming. Her books contain a greater commentary about our society. Her stories become more than just a whodunit splattered with with blood and guts. I respect her style.
At least a year ago, I picked up the first book in her acclaimed Grant County series, Blindsighted. You know with that title someone will show up with a visual impairment. This isn’t Eat, Pray, Love. We aren’t healing spiritual blindness. (If you’re concerned about spoilers, finish Blindsighted now.) But my great expectations stalled.
A professor, Sibyl Adams, is discovered in a diner bathroom. Slaughter to her credit artfully describes the graphic crime scene and the unfolding analysis before one of the characters directly mentions the professor’s blindness. Ok, ma’am, kill off the one with a disability. I rolled my eyes at the “she didn’t see it coming” line, too. My skeptical self thought, convenient person to murder, Karin, the perceived easy target. It plays on the fear of blindness equating to helplessness. As if being alone in a quiet bathroom and stabbed is not the horror. I frowned when one of the investigating cops bristled at the victim visiting the library until a colleague says there’s books on tape there. Sigh.
But I know Slaughter writes below the surface. She earned an international reputation as a great writer way before I tried any of her books. As the story continues, the reader learns about Adams’s career and choices and her loved ones and even details about the accessibility tools she used. I could see the creative effort to build a nuanced character. When I finished the novel, I gave Slaughter the benefit of the doubt. And of course I was pleased to find out she had written a lot of books.
Then I listened to a podcast called Disability Matters, featuring Slaughter as a guest. The host held her in high regard for how she portrayed many characters with disabilities. After hearing the show, I appreciated Slaughter’s inclusive stories more.
I emailed the author months ago as the inquisitive reader I am, but never heard back. She probably receives thousands of communications. I can’t say I expected a dialogue. Still, I would love to sit down over cups of coffee and discuss her writing motivations and impact as her career continues out of this galaxy. Would you like to read an interview if I ever landed one?
She published a new book this year, The Good Daughter. To my surprise, she included another woman with vision loss. (Another warning, if you haven’t finished The Good Daughter yet, come back to this post later.) Sam Quinn, a central character, acquired her vision loss during a crime. The vivid description of Quinn’s eye injuries unsettled me, but it serves to land the horrific nature of the crime. I felt cheated when she apparently is killed. It’s a murdered young lady like Sibyl Adams who could be assessed as weaker. To Slaughter’s crafty credit, she reveals Quinn to not only survive the crime but she includes her in the rest of the story. No acquaintances will remember her posthumously. Quinn will handle routine encounters involving her disability directly for the reader.
After we meet Quinn again as an adult swimming laps, it’s not immediately clear if she still has vision loss. This was a strength in Slaughter’s narrative. By showing Quinn doing activities you learn some things about her disability. Slaughter does succumb to a bit of a medical info catch-up but does not rely on that kind of telling again, choosing to put the practicing lawyer in situations that speak for themselves. Slaughter shows issues like inaccessible building features and feeling shame when performing an otherwise mundane activity like walking or wearing dark glasses indoors around people who judge. When Quinn offers explanations the frustration and embarrassment is something I related to and appreciated reading.
In Sam Quinn, Slaughter sketches a complicated female character filled with believable struggles like managing family relations after an absence, carrying out obligations, and balancing work and personal lives. I’m pleased how a best-selling and talented writer like Karin Slaughter presents characters as more than a medical condition. With her latest protagonist, she gives her a voice of her own. By doing so she champions inclusivity. I hope I’m not the only reader and writer who notices. I can’t wait to read more of Karin Slaughter’s books.
Have you read a book by Karin Slaughter? What are you reading this week? What characters on the page or on the screen have you related to recently? Tell me about it.