Anger is one of our base emotions. Like happiness, fear, and sadness, it has the power to shape people’s lives and control their days. Lindsay Smith tackles anger, agency, and just a little bit of demonic possession in her new novel A Darkly Beating Heart.
In A Darkly Beating Heart, Reiko moves to Japan to live with extended family; after a life of torment from family and friends, the idea of revenge drives Reiko and she dreams of hurting everyone who wronged her.
But when visiting the historical village of Kuramagi, Reiko discovers she can travel between her world and that of Edo period Japan. When she inhabits the body of Miyu, a woman from the historic village who is much more vengeful than she is, Reiko must wrestle with Miyu’s hatred and the dark secret of Kuramagi.
“The main thing I wanted to explore in this book that I haven’t really seen much elsewhere is the interplay between mental health, identity, and loneliness. While Reiko doesn’t question her sexual identity in the book—and I wanted to depict a bisexual character who is comfortable in their identity—she does question her feelings for specific people she encounters. She questions whether she feels attracted or repulsed by them because of who they are, or because of her own mental health struggles, whether it’s loneliness or the side effects of medication or any other numerous factors.”
The struggle to find her identity is amplified by Reiko’s intense and vivid revenge fantasies.
“She’s got a lot of anger in her heart and feels like she’s been betrayed by a lot of people in her life—her brother, her parents, her ex-girlfriend, and even herself. She experiences a lot of obsessive thoughts about getting revenge, and she self-harms as an outlet for her feelings. But she has a lot of trouble expressing herself. Miyu, on the other hand, seems very comfortable with her role as an outcast. I think that’s what Reiko finds very freeing about her when she finds herself inhabiting Miyu’s life.”
Whenever Reiko was transported to Edo-period Kuramagi, she became a part of Miyu’s body, able to experience things as Miyu would but also able to think and feel as Reiko. In the present day, Reiko felt as though she had no power at all, no power to fight back against her demons. As Miyu, she felt as though she was able to take matters into her own hands. The two women are able to feed off of each other’s energy. Miyu was considered to be an evil spirit by the villagers, and Reiko does not realize that she was being possessed until it was almost too late.. Writing these two angry voices, and especially Reiko’s obsessive thought patterns, was oftentimes exhausting to write.
“I tried to give hints throughout the story that there were other choices for Reiko to make—that anger wasn’t the only option for her situation, and those glimmers of hope, I think, keep it from being overwhelmed as she finds her way”
Reiko’s story wasn’t originally meant to be just a story of gore and anger.
“I originally didn’t focus on revenge so much as the idea of darkness and shadows as an oppressive, tangible force. I thought that someone who felt as powerless as she felt would have pretty strong fantasies of having the power she felt she was denied.”
This power manifested itself in the form of Miyu’s evil spirit, who ends up controlling Reiko’s body during one of the most pivotal scenes of the book.
“I really loved the idea of this girl who feels very deeply but also feels like she has no agency being confronted with the feeling of having a great deal of agency but not being sure whether it’s herself or an external force. I also enjoyed toying with the idea that it’s unclear who’s really possessing who for a large part of the story! The main challenge was in preserving that balance.”