Thanks to awesome short-story writer and new Facebook friend Valerie Fioravanti, I saw this interview with Claire Messud about her new book The Woman Upstairs.
I love a lot of things that Messud says in the interview. I love what she said about illuminating a particular human experience and what she said about women and anger. I relate to what she said about how we feel when our life hasn't taken the shape we thought it would.
It's her response to the last question, though, that really struck me. The interviewer asks if Ms. Messud would like to be friends with the main character of her book. Messud replies that the question itself is irrelevant (and maybe a little stupid).
Unfortunately, in the world of romance and women's fiction, it isn't irrelevant. We're always told that our characters must be likable and relatable to the point where they become bland sometimes. I can't tell you how often I feel my secondary characters take over a book because they're allowed to flaws and do bad things. Messud's answer made me want to stand up and cheer. In fact, I might have jumped up in my living room and yelled something about speaking truth to power.
Here's the ugly truth, though. As much as I love what Messud said, I still want to have someone in the story that I can relate to somehow. She lists a couple of heroes of stories in her reply and I have to admit that I've never understood why anyone likes the book Lolita. I think Humbert Humbert is disgusting. There has to be something redeemable in that person whose eyes I'm seeing through and whose shoes I'm walking in to get me into the story. Otherwise I lose interest. Or in certain cases start hoping the main character is going to get killed which is also not good. So I love what she said, but feel a little bit hypocritical about it in terms of what I like to read.
Do I have to want that person as a friend? I don't think so. I would not want to be friends with Carrie in Homeland. She's exhausting. Do I love her as a heroine? Absolutely.
So what do you think about it? Is the question irrelevant? Do you have to want to be friends with the main character?