Because I have small children (and thereby generate plenty of anxiety and maudlin What-Ifs using my natural-born imagination), I have strict criteria for sad books. Usually, if a writer wants me to follow her into the depths of despair, she must lure me with one of two shiny objects: exquisite writing (i.e. Elizabeth Strout) or extreme hilarity (say, Anna Maxted).
I just finished Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes, one of the most consistently funny writers I've ever read. She's so funny, as a matter of fact, that I followed her through a tale about the viciousness of alcoholism and drug addiction and clutched my sides with laughter all the way, going so far as to repeat bits aloud to myself in an empty room. Rachel is a young woman on the brink--addicted to cocaine and other controlled substances. When she accidentally overdoses and almost ends her life, her family and friends intervene and commit her to a rehab center where she meets a cast of memorable addicts. Rachel watches as the fellow "inmates" twist away from personal responsibility, lie to each other and themselves, and grieve their broken, blank lives. She flinches as they rage against nature and God, flail in physical, psychological, and emotional pain, and finally face the truth about themselves. She is shocked by the scandalous tales their families tell of selfishness and abuse and stunned by their eventual transformations and recoveries. However, her greatest surprise comes when she finally gains the courage to take inventory of her own heart. Super funny, super poignant.
My favorite funny-sad writers are Marian Keyes and Anna Maxted. What about you? Do books with sad and/or disturbing themes mess with your mind? What makes a sad book "worth it?"