TJP Reads: American Psycho and Anna Karenina

Anonymous
Anonymous, courtesy Flickr CC user Scott Beale

I… Just… Want… To… Be… Loved…

I’ve spent this summer reading two emotionally-draining novels: American Psycho and Anna Karenina. The first is a disturbing excoriation of 1980s yuppie values that is a paragon of postmodern stream of consciousness storytelling and contains scenes of graphic torture, murder, and cannibalism that turned my stomach on multiple occasions. The second has been considered to be the greatest novel of all time for the breadth and depth of its treatment of the human condition as we hurtle towards fulfillment or perdition. And though protagonists Patrick Bateman and Anna Arkadyevna Karenina differ in so many ways on the surface, both are profoundly unhappy, both cannot fit in their social circle, and both utter with grief beyond measure the same exact line written above: “I just want to be loved.” Neither realizes it in time.

Light beach reading these novels are not. However both provided me great fodder for prayer on retreat. Who am I? Am I just the sum of people’s impressions about me? Does the depth of my identity stay on the surface where I am simply a good dude? What happens when I explore myself deeper? At the surface Bateman is the go-getter golden boy so many admire. At the surface Karenina is the charming, witty, and beautiful socialite so many envy. At those greater depths lay Karenina’s and Bateman’s glaring inadequacies. At those greater depths lay my own.

Scary though it may seem these novels taught me to journey deeper to a level beyond my inadequacies. There I discovered the core of my being, a core ignited by love that warms and stabilizes great graces God has given me. These graces lie even deeper than my sins, imperfections, and inadequacies. These graces can and have overcome any number of ills and doubts in my life and vocation. These gifts from God are my foundation and remind me that – though I lose confidence in myself and others, though I doubt God’s presence and activity, though I doubt my vocation at times, though I sin, though I just want to be loved –  I know perfectly well who I am: a beloved child in whom God is well pleased. Karenina could not find this experience in the men in her life and Bateman could not purchase this realization at the men’s counter of Bergdorf Goodman. Had they sensed their self-worth, they could have lost themselves in the tranquil sea of God’s love instead of the waves of doubt that traumatized them throughout the books.

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Image “Anonymous” courtesy Flickr CC user Scott Beale, available here.

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