Jennifer Niven – All the Bright Places

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I read plenty of crappy books. The world is, after all, a crappy place (That’s why people kill themselves). Never have I read a book that offended me as much as this. I’d rather read the file about the crimes of Ian Watkins.

Suicide is close to me. My relationship with it is special. I’m passionate about it. I hope to either die by suicide, or make assisted suicide a reality and help the community. It frames my life.

Let me be clear. I do not want to live. I live only because I have to. I live only because assisted suicide isn’t available. Nothing can change it, except perhaps becoming a godlike celebrity. The reasons for this aren’t just ‘depression’ or whatever.

Suicide isn’t the result of simple chemical imbalance. Suicide is a choice. There is a lot of philosophical depth to it. The communities are rife with ideas and arguments why do it. Reading what these people left behind, they’re hardly irrational. Calling them ‘depressed’ and therefore irrational is calling a woman irrational because her skin bleeds when her husband hits her. No one chooses to be born. People should at least be able to choose to die. What kind of sick world is it that people live in it against their will?

Niven lost a person to suicide. The subject is close to her. I’m sorry for her loss, but it doesn’t excuse how horrible the novel is. Her lack of understanding of the suicidal mind is in every page. That’s not surprising since understanding suicide is extremely difficult unless you’re there. People are hard-wired to survive. “Life is good” is an idea that exists in our genes. Thinking otherwise is rebellion against nature itself.

The main principle behind suicide is that life isn’t good, in and of itself. Death has its benefits, like the end of all needs and all suffering. I talked to many people about suicide and each of them thought we all operate around the same idea. They all thought suicidal people love life and simply feel terrible in this moment. Yet all the writings in alt.suicide.holiday says a different thing. These people value freedom and not life.

Niven can’t understand this, and that’s why her main character isn’t really suicidal. In order for him to be suicidal, I need to see these thoughts in action. I need to see the despair, the hatred, the failure and the lack of connection with the world, Nothing about Finch resembles a suicidal person. Even pro-life psychologists – who fool themselves into thinking they understand us – know a little about that mind. Another quality of it is that it feels trapped.

In fact, many of the people in suicide communities would kill to be Theodore Finch. He plays guitar and writes songs. There’s a rock bar where people know him and he’s been in bands. He had a lot of sex. He aggressively pursue a hot girl and instead of getting accused of harassment, he wins her. Clearly, Finch is in the beautiful and free. Perhaps he was abused, but a lot of people are abused without killing themselves. Perhaps his mother is absent, but that gives him so much freedom.

A lot of people also lead great lives and still kill themselves. Just look at Robin Williams or Ian Curtis. Despite being ultimate alpha males in the eyes of society, they decided to exit. This happens occasionally in my suicide forum. Someone mentions how, despite having everything they still want to die. I do believe them – they still feel a sense of pointless or trapped-ness or hopelessness.

Where is it in Finch? He pursues Violet with the confidence of a jock. He travels around and has a lot of fun. Niven is good at writing the ‘manic’ side of Finch. She’s just as in love with life, so she uses the character to escape to a teenage fantasy – Manic Pixie Dream Boy acts like a sex offender (Hot, so forgiven) and teaches a depressed (But popular and hot) girl how to live while travelin’ ’round.

We hardly get any moment of Finch’s ‘depressed’ side. Pessimism and optimism are weird things. It’s possible to find negatives and positives in everything and that’s how Digimon Tamers presented a good argument against suicide. Niven doesn’t present any arguments for suicide at all. Where’s the sense of hopeless? Of no direction? Where’s the feeling that no matter what happens, it will never get better?

Suicidal people often have a psychological need the can’t satisfy. They tend to have specific issues they want to live without. The fear of these striking again is why they prefer dying over living (If it can get worse, it can also get better). Finch doesn’t have that psychological need. He’s a male version of the females from John Green books. Despite being pretty bummed over life, we never get a reason why. Niven can’t even imagine a reason like “I will never be enough for that girl”. Niven can’t even give Finch a reason to die that suicidal people will frown upon.

So no, Finch isn’t mentally ill. He’s always manic and always full of life. Something in Williams’ and Curtis’ lives wasn’t enough. Despite being a big shot comedian and the frontman of Post-Punk’s top band, life still wasn’t good enough. There isn’t a single moment where Niven shows she understands what it’s like when everything is not enough.

As for Violet, she mostly follows Finch around and gives in to Finch’s aggressive pursuit. I didn’t mention Ian Watkins in the beginning for nothing. Finch pursues Violent with so much force that if he continued to live he’d probably end up like Watkins. Assuming, of course, he’ll have a hit song. Considering he’s hot I bet he has a good chance.

John Green is also a good comparison point. The book follows a nearly identical structure. The shared ingredients include two lovers who are meant to be weirdos, but are in fact total badasses. There are quirky best friends and a lot of traveling around. To Niven’s credit, she doesn’t focus too much on those so-called ‘best friends’.

There are also few and brief moments where Niven understands suicide. If you ever wanted to kill yourself you probably heard help is available and people care. They don’t. People are shocked by suicide and won’t care about you when you’re alive. Many people are afraid to acknowledge this and I’m glad Niven gets that. The character of Amanda also makes me hope that if Niven only read a bit in alt.suicide.holiday, she might’ve understood the concept of “Everything is never enough”. She’s the most realistic and fascinating character – a popular girl so trapped in her popularity she can’t imagine a way out but death.

If you hope to read this and gain an understanding of suicide, you will be disappointed. Worse, you might be fooled. Suicidal people aren’t illnesses. They aren’t thoughtcriminals who need to be re-educated. No one chooses to live and therefore people should be allowed to die. The anti-suicide attitude is in fact what drives many people to suicide. A lot of suicidal people aren’t fighting suicidal thoughts. They’re fighting life. Life is the problem, not the desire to die.

The novel is terrible for deeper reasons than a creepy romance and ripping off a ‘meh’ author. It takes an important and rich subject and doesn’t even simplify it. Suicide happens in the book, but the story is really about two hot teenage badasses being hot teenage badasses. If I lived like Finch I would’ve loved life. I really hope Niven – and anyone else who lost someone to suicide – finds support and continues to take care of themselves. It won’t suicide any less valid though.

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The Three Types of Suicide Prevention

Since I’m an asher, I obviously object to suicide prevention. I find it to be a violation of bodily autonomy. It is taking someone else’s death and cancelling it, as if it were your own. Pushing yourself to the edge, overriding survival instincts is very hard. Once a person manages to do that, stopping them by force is condemning them to a miserable existence they don’t want.

But suicide prevention, like many things, comes in different forms. These are the three main types I’ve seen. They are all fairly immoral, but some are more than others.

1. Suicide Prevention by Force

This is the cruelest of all types. It shares similarities with rape and murder. ‘By force’ means in a prettier language, ‘rescuing someone from suicide’. Suicide prevention by force is holding back a person from jumping, taking away the gun when they aim it, stopping a suffocation process. When the person is already in the process of dying, intervening is cruel. Surviving an attempt is a traumatic experience. The person will have to live on with the memories of it. Surviving some methods will lead to permanent damage (Especially in suffocation methods). Not only that, but preparing the method and doing it is a lot of hard work. By stopping it, you throw all that work in the trash.

Most importantly, this type of prevention doesn’t address the underlying causes of suicide. It’s not about helping the person with what drives them to die. It’s merely about keeping them alive. If you ever used force in order to stop a suicide, you’re a horrible person.

2. Direct Suicide Prevention

This type of suicide prevention is fairly immoral, but not as harmful as Type I. Whereas Type I should be considered a crime, Type II is merely being an inconsiderate moron.

The mistake many people make is that suicidal people don’t want to die. They think that deep down inside suicidal people want to live and want help finding a reason to go on. Some people are like this. Death, for them, isn’t a desired choice but just the better of two evils. If they can, they will avoid it.

Many suicidal people don’t think this way. Death is something they’re excited about, it’s a liberating thought. Telling people that they shouldn’t die is pointless. There is a whole arsenal of argument why suicide is valid. In the end, unless you can prove non-existence isn’t better than existence, you cannot stop a suicide.

Moreover, telling people they shouldn’t die changes the conversation. It’s no longer about the suicidal person, but about the people left behind. Everyone knows suicide hurts everyone around, but that’s not the suicidal’s problems. If life is as good as you say it is, you will get over this grief.

Suicide is already stigmatized, and Type II reinforces it. It doesn’t matter how much you say ‘we need to talk about suicide’. The mere fact you reject suicide as a valid option makes you hostile. It means you disregard the person’s bodily autonomy and basic rights, that you don’t respect their choices. Groups like ASH and Sanctioned Suicide exists to get away from these people. You cannot talk people out of dying because people who are against suicide are one reason people commit suicide.

This isn’t helpful. We don’t need who you think you are. It’s pointless to talk someone out of dying when they don’t consider dying a bad thing, when life is more harmful to them.

3. Indirect Suicide Prevention

This is the type of suicide prevention that is moral. In fact, it actually benefits everyone.

Indirect suicide prevention is attempting to build a society that won’t drive people to kill themselves. Building a society that makes people want to stay won’t guarantee people won’t exit, but it be better for everyone.

Attempts to build such a society are varied. Some focus on reaching out to mentally ill people, helping them with their depression, anxiety, trauma and other things. Some focus on creating a more communal lifestyle. Some help with the economical problems. Either way, building a welcoming society is the only moral way to try to prevent suicide. Even if a person still exits, such a society will be able to provide support to those left behind.

It’s important to note that perhaps assisted suicide is necessary in such a society. A society that accepts suicide as a valid option actually welcomes suicidal people, instead of alienating them. It doesn’t push them over the edge and gives them full agency. It’s possible that by accepting suicide, you can actually lower them.

Of course, all these types exist on a scale and what people do is somewhere on them. A person who talks to a jumper on the Golden Gate bridge is between Type I and Type II – an asshole, but not a criminal. Look at this and think what you’re doing, and how you talk to suicidal people. It’s possible that all this time you were encouraging them to die by telling them not to die.

You cannot, and should not, prevent suicide. Suicide prevention is selfish. True selflessness is helping a person go through with it despite how much it hurts you. If you find this odd, wait until someone bullies you or gaslights you. Unless you’ve been to Sanctioned Suicide or A.S.H., you haven’t spoken with suicidal people honestly.