cover image Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away

Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away

Eric G. Wilson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-15033-4

Wilson (Against Happiness) offers up his own half-guilty attraction to horror films and the like as the starting point for this meandering and self-conscious cultural analysis of morbid curiosity. Bite-size chapters point toward the idea (culled from a variety of sources but borrowing in particular from the life of Thomas Hardy and a definition of imagination by Coleridge) that pain and perversion avoid reproducing themselves when properly channeled through art, and that morbid experience is itself, at least potentially, the seat of ennobling insight. To this end, Wilson delves into fight clubs or the obsession with serial killers, as well as morbidly minded experts like artist Joe Coleman. At the same time, Wilson manages to overwhelm a sensational topic with too many self-reflecting one-liners and chipper self-effacement (“I’m as callous as the next guy, or gal. Hence this book: my effort to understand my insensitivity and become a better man”), which do little more than detract from already hurried treatments of complex issues—although he gets credit for trying to abide by author and interviewee Joyce Carol Oates’s unsparing dismissal of his line of thinking on serial killers as, among other things, “naïve.” While the book does not pretend to rigorous analysis, its consideration of its fascinating material matter might have run deeper. (Feb.)