Picture Books for Sociopaths:
The Monster at the End of This Book
I am just a fiction writer, but I have watched enough unsettling TV to know that for every apprehended serial killer, there is a sexy and naïve psychology student who wants to study them. (Will they cross the line? You bet your nice Chianti they will.)
In real life, there is a famous sociopath questionnaire given to convicted serial killers. (Presumably question one is: JESUS CHRIST, WHY?) I would suggest that we add to it the following question: “Did you, as a child, read the picture book The Monster at the End of This Book?” I think somebody’s dissertation would basically write itself.
To be clear, and for legal reasons, I’m suggesting correlation rather than causation. The Monster at the End of This Book will probably not turn you into Ted Bundy. But if you’re looking for a picture book to give to the little sociopath in your life, you could not do better. It is easy to read. It is a master class in suspense. And by simply turning the pages, you get to torture the friendliest resident of Sesame Street.
Sociopath, Meet Your Victim
Elmo gets bratty when he misses his nap and Oscar is an admitted asshole, but Grover stays cheerful.
He doesn’t do that frustrated pulling-his-lower-lip-up-over-his-nose thing Kermit does, he doesn’t snap at you like Bert. He doesn’t even have eyebrows to lower. He messes up a lot, but then he gets up and tries again. He perseveres. And unlike, say, EVERY OTHER MUPPET ON THE BLOCK, he has a job (Terrible Waiter). And, by the way, in his free time? He’s a bonafide superhero. Who wears a helmet, which is metal as fuck.
He is your lovable, furry old pal Grover. And in The Monster at the End of This Book, you are going to torture him, drive him to the brink of madness, make him plead for his life. It’s one of the darker Little Golden Books, honestly.
Anatomy of a Picture Book for Sociopaths
On the very first page Grover learns the title of the book he is in. “I am so scared of Monsters!!!” he exclaims, immediately establishing his vulnerability and shaky grasp of punctuation. Perfect victim, thinks the reader.
Well, that’s just good communication.
Here he makes a direct request. “Please do not turn the page.” You are implicated now. The choice is yours. You can do as he asks, or you can torture your blameless friend.
Yes, I took these pictures in a Barnes & Noble. I bought a coffee. It’s fine.
He is starting to lose his mind. And still, Grover gives you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, he thinks, you do not understand. But you do. You do understand. And you want to terrify him anyway.
Look at those eyes. LOOK AT THEM.
He tries to hold the pages together with ropes. He builds a brick wall. He keeps trying to reason with you. But even more terrifying than the monster you are pushing him toward is his creeping realization that one of the foundations of his life — your friendship — is a lie. You have the power to end his terror at any time. But you continue to drive him into madness. Why? Because you want to see his reaction.
Because you crave his terror.
Finally, he resorts to begging. He is a broken Muppet. He quakes with fear. He is emitting drops of either tears or anxious sweat. You have caused this. You can linger on this page for as long as you like, admiring your handiwork.
Hope you’re proud of yourself, asshole.
Congratulations, You’re a Sociopath
At the end, of course, Grover discovers that he is the monster at the end of this book. This sends him into a spiral of self-loathing. He lashes out at you to deflect his shame. And he knows now, and can never forget, that the thing he most fears is himself. He will never be the same.
What about you? Do you come away from it changed? Do you need more now? If you are a sociopath, you can reread The Monster at the End of This Book over and over for the rest of your life. (Or for two weeks, if it is a library book.) And you will reread this picture book. Because we both know who the real monster is.
After a while, maybe torturing Muppets won’t be enough for you. You’ll feel a need to move on. In times of stress you’ll find yourself seeking out the Wiggles. Maybe, on your darkest night, you’ll get curious about the Backyardigans. But if you ever reach the point of contemplating the oeuvre of Caillou, please contact me immediately. I have a questionnaire for you.
Stone, Jon. The Monster at the End of this Book. Illustrated by Michael Smollin, Golden Books – Random House Children’s Books, 1971.