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.