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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Must narrators be "likable"?

Seen some discussion recently in NYTBR re whether characters in fiction, narrators in particular, need to be "likable" - obviously, either they don't or else it may depend on your definition of "likable" - the Underground Man isn't necessarily a guy you'd want to pal around with but there is something winning about his pathetic intensity and curious obsessions - whereas a whining, self-pitying narrator is hard to take, in life and in literature. Probably the greatest strength of Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe series is the extreme likability of Bascombe - despite his flaws and foibles, he seems like a guy any reader would want to know and count as a friend. Paraphrasing what my friend AF once said about Rabbit Angstrom: It's as if an Everyman could lead a rich and deep interior life. Or, to put it another way, as if an Everyman could express in words his rich and deep interior life. Of course Bascombe is not an everyman like Rabbit; he shares some of the traits of his creator (created in his image?), in fact before his career in realty he was a journalist and novelist - so his facility with language comes honestly. But his combination of insight, with, self-deprecation, honesty, linguistic dexterity makes him very appealing to many readers - me included - and his conventional, middle-class manners and mores make him more universally recognizable: He's quite different in that regard from the persona Ford would have created had he written a memoir. Ford is a peripatetic, childless, monogamous writer-intellectual, whereas Frank is a real-estate agent (now retired) in central suburban NJ, who volunteers his time reading for the blind and greeting returning soldiers: this distance between self and other gives Ford a great deal of space in which to create a character, and in which to invite readers. All that said, the latest book - Let Me Be Frank with You (terrible title aside; why not call it something like Aftermath, as all four sections are about the NJ shore post Hurricane Sandy?) - feels a little undercooked. The first three sections, or stories, at least, each involve Franks' meeting w/ someone in much worse straits than he's in - but nothing much comes from any of these three meetings, and Frank doesn't do a hell of a lot other than listen and rue. Each story seems as if it was an attempt to get a novel going that just hit a dead end. I have to say I enjoyed reading each and will read the fourth tonight or tomorrow, but I don't feel that the whole collection, so far, adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

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