Real Characters?

picture of girl reading

So I am reading The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen. I’m not the biggest fan of contemporary “serious” fiction, though. I put the book down last night and said to Marjorie, “This book is amazing. I’m 85 pages in and there is absolutely no story.” True. No disruptions in the lives of the main character, no major plot point. Nothing much has happened.

But the characters! Holy Cow. The main character is a royally messed up anti-hero (so far), but he’s there on the page and real in a way that no King or Koontz character has ever been. I want to keep reading for his sake–not because the plot has pulled me in, but because this wreck of a human has pulled me in.

I most enjoy reading thrillers and fantasy, even some true crime, but Franzen’s characters are the reason to read literary fiction. In just ten pages he has more memorable, vibrant characters than in ten of the last Dean Koontz novels I’ve read–and they have been very good novels.

Reading novels with excellently drawn characters is important. It’s even theologically important. Needful, even. From those pages we get glimpses into human nature, into the way people work, into the way I work and act and react. We get insights into how other people think and what they value. It is good for the preacher, but also good for the person who wishes to be authentically human, which is nothing more than a human living in the grace of God.

4 comments on “Real Characters?

  1. I’m sure you’re aware of how Franzen’s latest novel is generally panned by those presuming to be elitist, usually for the reason that the story isn’t good enough or the writing isn’t refined enough. I haven’t read his new book but I absolutely devoured The Corrections, mainly for the reason you cite–the characters are fascinating. It’s what enages me in movies as well. One of my favorites, The Station Agent, has the barest of dramatic arcs yet is utterly compelling because of the people.

    1. Peter–good to hear from you, and enjoy your observations–you’re such an aesthete. 🙂 Actually, I haven’t followed the reviews for Freedom apart from the hooplah at the release. Any other tips on literature or film for a pastor way too philistine lately?

  2. Anyone who posts a rather opaque reference to The Fourth Album “from the pulpit” cannot be philistine! I’d rather explain it as too many needy kids. 🙂

    Since you ask–an entertaining recent book is The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter. A captivating movie, suitable for children as well since it substitutes “cuss” for every expletive, is Fantastic Mr. Fox. If you haven’t been watching Mad Men on TV, it generally offers some intriguing character studies. I still remain somewhat hopeful for the Simpsons each week, but its main problem continues to be neglect of all the fine characters with emphasis on inane story line instead.

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