A post about characters. And character.
Them. Us. The them filtered through us. The us revealed by them.
In the book just finished (read, not written by me), a prime example of this. The well-known author/comedian/musician planted a tidy little knot of dissatisfaction in my head that demanded to be untangled later. Later is now.
The book was entertaining. Clever. And somehow empty. The characters were interesting, but never captivating: One observes their complexity, but never experiences it, never feels it. By the end, they have passed us like strangers in a NYC street; we may have waited with them to cross the street, we may have ridden shoulder to shoulder with them in a crowded elevator, but we do not remember them. They have given us nothing to love.
As contrast, consider Mary Doria Russell’s characters in “The Sparrow”. These are characters who leap whole from the page in journeys as much emotional as psychological and circumstantial. Characters as complex as human nature is, with whom we would like to have a conversation; characters we miss when their story is done. These is passion in these beings. They are alive.
For me, I need the alive. I need the love.
What does this heart-held belief say about the writer of the first work, of the second, of me? Not sure. I don’t know whether dispassionate characters reveal the coolness of the writer behind them, or whether the grand passion in others reflects the grander emotional state of its owner. I don’t know those people…I spend entirely too much time trying to understand me. But I do know when a book has done its job; when it has wrong me out with the truth of its feeling and the rigor of its intellect.
That’s what I want—the soul-shake, not just the flirtation…the meal, not just the appetizer. Feed me little tidbits from a tray, and I’m sure to come away from the encounter unsatisfied.
Adversity, as the saying goes, does not create character, it reveals it. The same is true, I believe, of personalities and writing, of character and characters. Writing is/can be/should be/must be a revelation of character(s) if we want those characters to live. If a character must be different at the story’s end than he/she was at the beginning, we must coax that journey from ourselves, live births delivered breathing out the deep core of us. I’m not sure that we can expect readers to share our joy, our sadness, our sense of wonder—or that of our characters—any other way.
And a postscript, a last note about journeys. We have come a long way from the beginning of the wonderful, crazy journey that this space chronicles. The long path is no end in sight. For that, I’m glad…and grateful for the eyes and hearts that share the trip with me. Thank you for being here.