Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma

Monsters coverMonsters: A Fan’s Dilemma
Claire Dederer
Knopf (April 25, 2023), 286 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $25.20

In Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma Claire Dederer writes about creative people who do bad things. From the title alone one might assume that she has some strong judgments on the topic, but the subtitle makes clear that the discussion is much more nuanced.

Dederer opens the book writing about movie director Roman Polanski. She recalls the highly publicized incident of Polanski’s drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl. She then sits down and does a Polanski marathon in her living room. Her conclusion: with movies such as Chinatown, Polanski is a talented director, whatever his personal behavior.

The author devotes a long section of the book to Woody Allen. There are, of course, parallels between Allen’s real-life relationship with Soon-Yi Previn and the plot of his movie Manhattan several decades earlier. Dederer seems less inclined to give Allen a pass, at least in the context of Manhattan, and is irked at a male colleague who chastises her for not appreciating the cinematic skill Allen brought to the movie.

Dederer writes about J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and how countless youngsters who saw themselves as misfits found solace in the world of Hogwarts, and who felt betrayed when she started making comments that seemed to look down on the transgender community. The author reflects on how the death of David Bowie caused the story to resurface regarding Bowie’s being responsible for the loss of a fifteen-year-old girl’s virginity. Interestingly, the victim had no animosity toward Bowie.

Dederer discusses a rock duo, popular with gay and trans young people, and how one member was allegedly guilty of an act of sexual violence. She describes how that did not diminish the duo’s popularity. She quotes one young fan, a friend of her daughter’s: “I still listen to them. I still love them. Even after everything.”

I had been looking forward to the publication of Monsters ever since I read a couple of months ago about its upcoming release. That’s because I have had my own fan dilemmas. Around Woody Allen, certainly. But even more so regarding Marion Zimmer Bradley and the tension between her known acts of child abuse and my desire to read her retelling of the Arthurian myth in her novel The Mists of Avalon. I wrote about that after watching Maureen Corrigan discuss the topic of separating the artist from the art (or not) in her Great Courses video series on banned books.

After writing about others, Dederer turns to herself and asks if she is a monster. In particular she asks if her desire to be productive as a writer and carving out time to do so made her a monster to her family. Near the end of the book, she admits to her alcoholism and how that might have brought out monster-like tendencies in her. She describes how she simply decided one day to stop drinking.

In the end Dederer gives us no definitive solution. She writes:

quoteThere is not some correct answer. You are not responsible for finding it. Your feeling of responsibility is a shibboleth…. There is no authority and there should be no authority. You are off the hook. You are inconsistent. You do not need to have a grand unified theory about what to do about Michael Jackson.

Dederer tells us, “The way you consume art doesn’t make you a bad person, or a good one. You’ll have to find some other way to accomplish that.”

No clear answers, for sure. I still don’t know what to do about The Mists of Avalon. That doesn’t mean Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma is not worth reading. For me it was worth every minute I spent with it.

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