Thursday, October 20, 2016
The unlikable in literature
Hm well wish I had more on the plus side to say about Ottessa Moshfegh's story in current NYer, An Honest Woman, but am finding it to be another entry in the unlikable story characters derby. OK, we don't have to like every character we encounter in literature and in fact I'm not exactly sure what it means to "like" a character - obviously not the same thing as to like a friend, a neighbor, an artist, a neighborhood, a brand of ice cream. Characters are images, concocted of words, and I guess if a writer can devise a character about whom we have any sort of feelings, as if the image were real - that's a positive. Literature: an imitation of an action in words, right? And literature, particularly American literature, and particularly short fiction, is filled w/ outsiders, losers, and loners - not necessarily likable types. But the losers and loners in, say, a George Saunders story, are intriguing and sympathetic and draw from us some kind of empathy - so different from a story with a creepy, kind of predatory, voyeuristic character like Jeb in Moshfegh's story: he lives alone, a homely-looking 60 something, spies on his attractive new neighbor, listens to all the sounds from her house, reaches out to her after her husband leaves, has his nephew meet her and invite her out for a drink - an evening's outing that improbably is to begin w/ a drink at Jeb's house - an evening that goes awry when Jeb's nephew bails out so Jeb is alone with the woman, who stays for a few drinks, improbably, and Jeb hits on her - but she rebuffs him crudely - hopping on his lap and saying something like - so this is what you want? Later she reunites w/ husband, he overhears them having aggressive sex, and in frustration and anger goes into town and walks the streets, seething. OK, what did I learn here and why do I want to spend any time w/ any of these people, if people they be? Can we maybe get a little back story, something to help us understand this lonesome and frightening man - or the woman/neighbor who weirdly leads him on a bit, teasing him, then turns angry and aggressive herself? These things happen, of course, but in literature they should happen for a reason, should provide us access to a consciousness, a life, and a way of thinking and perceiving - not "just because."