Why do we read fiction? Most often it’s for pleasure or escape. It does us good to get caught up in someone else’s story. But fiction also has the power to shape our moral imaginations. It increases empathy and allows us to experience emotionally the outworking of choices we haven’t made or tragedies we haven’t suffered.
Some novels lean so heavily toward the purpose of molding reader sympathies that they forsake any pretense of giving pleasure. The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead was this sort of book. I steeled myself for it the way I do before reading about the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church or the Rwandan genocide. Sometimes we must look with open eyes at the evil humans can perpetrate themselves or countenance in others.