Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Nasty characters in literature and a possible interpretation of Keret's story
There's been some debate in recent years as to whether characters in fiction have to be "likable" - and I would say, by and large, the answer is yes - with likability a concept that can stretch to encompass the eccentrics and the loners (we empathize w/ them, at the least, which is form of liking) and even the criminals and psychopaths - likable in the sense that we understand them - if they're just pure evil they're cartoonish and beyond the pale. Pure loathing is not a pathway to successful literature. But those are extreme cases; what about the whiner, the complainer, the nasty kid, the bully, the narcissist - they have their place in fiction, but the narrative won't work unless there's another dimension, that over the course of reading the narrative we find ourselves in league w/ these characters, against our instinct and initial judgments. So what about Edgar Keret's story To the Moon and Back in the current NYer? Has there been a just plain less likable narrator in a story in years? This guy is nasty from paragraph one and on from there - he's scornful of everyone, always a victim, never the one who's culpable, everyone else is stupid, he's the only smart guy. Story tells of his trip to mall with son for son's birthday (day after - damn family court judge wouldn't let him see son on birthday, etc.) to buy him whatever he wants (sure way to make your kid spoiled and nasty, too) and the kid decides what he wants in the store is the cash register, so Gabi tries to buy it, putting the poor clerk in a terrible position, feeling threatened, etc. Spoiled kid won't back off; this nasty narrator (Gabi) presses on, everyone's miserable. Well, I sure couldn't stand this guy for more than a short story - and even the story is so terribly unpleasant - an accomplishment to write it but why should we read it? There may be one reason: Keret is an Israeli writer, and I couldn't help but wonder if the story was a hidden allegory - is his bullying attempt to provide everything for his unappreciative son, even to buy the cash register from a store in a mall (that would shut down its business for the day, right?) some kind of analogue to Israeli territorialism and occupation? Just wondering.