Skip to main content

Protagonists Who Are Difficult to Like

Now available in print, e-book, and audio                                                                                      Killing Silence on Amazon
There's been a lot of discussion on mystery readers' sites lately about books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Some pan them because the protagonists aren't very likeable; others claim they brilliantly reflect the realities of life. The fact that The Gold Finch won literature's highest reward indicates that reflecting reality is a big deal for the important voices in publishing and reading.

I read The Girl on the Train last week, and I have to say it was well done. I was drawn into the woman's blurry world, and I guess I understand better now what it's like to be an alcoholic, promising yourself you'll do better tomorrow while you pour yourself another drink today. I never read Gone Girl, having heard there was no one to like in the book, and I stopped just over halfway through The Gold Finch, tired of the young man's spiral downward to the point that each time I set it down, I didn't want to pick it up again.  Whether that makes me a low-class reader or not I don't know, but in any movie I watch or book I read, I want someone I can cheer for, someone I like.

That's not to say I don't enjoy a protagonist with issues. I fell in love with Craig Johnson's books because Walt Longmire was so troubled in the first one, and Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight and the Todds' Ian Rutledge grabbed me for the same reasons. In those books, however, the protagonist tries to assure that the problem he has doesn't make the situation (whatever the mystery is) worse for others. It only makes things harder for him personally.

Loser, my homeless protagonist, is that type. She's got lots of issues, but she's desperate not to inflict them on others. For me that signals the type of nobility required of an appealing protagonist: a lack of selfishness. The boy in The Gold Finch and the woman in The Girl on the Train are so wrapped up in themselves that they make others pay for their hurt and anguish. Yes, they have excuses, but so does Loser, so do Walt Longmire and Ian Rutledge. It's their determination not to inflict their hurt on anyone else that makes them, for me anyway, worthy protagonists, people with whom I can spend a few hours of my time without feeling I've wasted it.

So while I admit to the talent of writers who can accurately portray unlikeable characters, when those characters are protagonists I'm left feeling vaguely unhappy at the end. There are already messed-up people in the world who are beyond caring whom they hurt. I prefer those who, though troubled, work to make the world better, even as they wrestle with their own demons.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Book Clubs Take Note: Discussion Guide: Sister Saint, Sister Sinner

  When I sent Sister Saint, Sister Sinner to my editor, she was (as usual) helpful about pointing out areas that needed more development, parts that repeated information already given, and places where the logic  temporarily failed. At the end, she made a comment that stuck with me: "People are going to be talking about the things you deal with in this book." To me, that meant the story was destined for book clubs. Having visited a few in my years of writing, I knew that they often begin with a list of discussion topics. Now, they often don't stay focused on them, and that's okay. Sometimes it's the wine. Sometimes it's a natural progression. But discussion leaders like having questions that can get the conversation back on track when it strays too far from the story. Every person who reads a book gets something out of it that no one else does. I had the experience once of visiting a book group where one reader didn't like the book and kept bringing up her

What Do You Have of Grandma's?

My grandmother died on my birthday in 1968. We couldn't wish her back, since she'd been in a lot of pain for a long time. Later, I helped Mom clean out her house, and we came upon her sewing basket. For some reason I asked if I could have it, and my mother said yes. I still have it. I think of her every time I take it out of its cupboard, though I can't think of a single time I saw Grandma sewing. It's hers, and that's enough. My other grandmother was the type who asked her progeny what they wanted of her things long before she died. One day when I was visiting I told her about my new hobby, refinishing old furniture. Pointing to a table that had always sat in her living room, she explained that as a young woman she too had taken up that task. The classic-style table was cherry wood, she told me, and she had rescued it from somewhere and given it new life with elbow grease and varnish. "Maybe you'll want it when I'm gone," she said, and I readi

What a Month!

I was thrilled with the response to my giveaway in August, so thanks to all who requested a print book. I'm sorry if you didn't get one, but they went fast! I've been receiving emails from readers, some letting me know the book had arrived in the mail, and others letting me know the reader had finished and would be posting a review. One clever girl even put a pic of the book on Facebook, so I got some free advertising. To one and all, thank you! The process was hectic for a while, since I wanted to get the books in the mail ASAP. The people at my little post office were patient and helpful. I combed local dollar stores to get enough bubble mailers of the correct size. There was time spent, and money. Why would I do that? Writers often spend hundreds of dollars on advertising that goes out into a world of people who don't care much about their books. I chose to spend that money to send books to people who'd already noticed me, either here on the blog or by signing