Are we still using trigger warnings, as a society? On a podcast I was listening to the other day (Search Engine), the guest pointed out that trauma triggers are often specific to the individual.

For example, if a book mentions hanging a wooden object using poster tape, that’s going to trigger anxiety in me, since that’s what caused my concussion back in 2019. But that would be a pretty silly trigger warning to put at the beginning of a book. And a trigger could be as seemingly innocuous as a plush teddy bear, if there was a plush teddy bear present during someone’s traumatic experience.

Moreover, the podcast guest pointed out, trigger warnings can sometimes make anxiety worse than it would have been otherwise. A trigger warning actually primes the reader or audience to feel bad.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s good to know ahead of time, as a media consumer, whether there might be disturbing content ahead. So you can avoid it if you’re in an emotionally vulnerable time of your life.

Anyway, at this point, you should pretty much know the general direction in which this blog post is heading.

A memoir published last year is making a huge splash. In Molly, Molly’s bereaved husband, Blake Butler, tells the story of her short life and suicide.

In memoir, there’s always the question of how much the author should tell. It’s impossible for a reader to know exactly how much Butler keeps private, . . . but he certainly does not seem to hold anything back.

Molly is a vivid account of a woman with a troubled childhood: her talents and ambitions, her secrets and lies. It is also a heartfelt account of a man who continues to adore and mourn his wife, even after he discovers unsettling facts after her death.

The book is beautifully written, lyrical and moving. In the following passage, Butler writes about feeling torn up about insisting upon staying in his hometown of Atlanta, despite Molly’s desire to move to further her career:

“I felt forced to be a letdown in that way, frozen in place between a past and future, unable to imagine starting over somewhere else. Life, by definition, had to hurt one way or another, its unforeseen shadow looming large over the whole field like a permanent eclipse, one you have no choice but to keep encroaching forward under, in the dark.”

Wow. Life is like that, indeed. So stubborn in forcing your hand: You have to make major decisions when you don’t have all the information, for it’s impossible to know the future. And sometimes all the options seem bad.

Early adulthood is an especially fraught time of life, for this reason. This is the time of life spotlighted in Molly.

Reading Molly was a mystical experience, as if I were being initiated into an unknown realm that I was stretching to fully understand.

Molly is a mystical book; but about a third of the way through, I realized that it’s also poorly edited. Long, lyrical sentences sometimes miss their mark and provoke a feeling of confused wonderment, due to inverted or missing words—which I mistook for additional mysticism. Nonetheless, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a mystical experience about the ultimate dark subject that haunts us all.

What is your opinion about trigger warnings?