for the Bookworms, for the Writers

Hateable Characters

I just finished reading A Map of the World. I have very mixed feelings about it. The plot didn’t seem to go anywhere. The ending was anti-climactic. Yet the theme was excellently portrayed without being in-your-face. And I was interested enough to finish the book.

The most confusing part for me though was the characterization. The protagonist Alice was so off-putting, along with just about all of the other characters.

Describing her husband as reeking of manure from farming, tromping into the house with manure-covered shoes, later even entering the hospital for a visit with manure-covered shoes. Just shower already! Take the boots off at the door.

Or her daughter Emma who is a total brat, and she realizes it but just gives up. I wanted to whack her upside the head and tell her how to raise her child. Don’t give her breakfast after she throws it! Or better yet, tell her to eat off the floor what she threw down there….oh wait, no there’s probably manure all over it now.

And also every time Alice goes into a long monologue (which is often, she doesn’t listen well), I can’t help but think of Mrs. Marcus in the movie It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, jabbering away about absolutely nothing – only Alice isn’t funny.

Then there’s the kid Robbie who is a terror later to a preposterous extent, but I can’t see how he was specifically a terror back when Alice smacks him. A kid just standing there refusing to answer a question is frustrating, but really, slapping him over that? But Alice goes on and on the first few chapters about what a horrendous kid he always is.

Yet I read the entire book.

And it gets me thinking. These characters aren’t heroic. They’re not your likeable character with a couple flaws to make it realistic. No, they’re actually realistic.

Sure there’s people in the world that are like likeable characters in stories. But most? Most people have something that will drive you crazy if you stay with them for 200 pages of their life story. Many people in the world will jabber on and on to where you just want to make them shut up (me included, sorry.) Many parents will have days where they give up on their kid behaving and just try to placate them to get through the day. Many people have moments where they want to slap someone over something small, just because it was the last straw – all the little daily nuisances piling up to an unbearable height.

I’m not sure I liked the story. I’m certain I didn’t like the characters, except maybe Lizzie or Claire, the 2-yr-olds. I was frustrated and angry at the characters, wanting to strangle them or yell or run away, for the entire book. But maybe this story had some worth, something that held me, because I had to admit that I probably encounter more people like this, and am more a person like this, than any of my favorite characters from other stories. I don’t know if that makes this story alright or not. Maybe that means the story is crap. I don’t know.


Your Turn:

Have you read any books with unlikeable characters you’re pretty sure you were supposed to root for? What do you think – is this more real-world portrayal, and do we want that in books? is this type of chracterization crap writing or genius writing?

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