Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Guest post from Jason Parent, author of A Life Removed
In a World Without Heroes: that’s the tagline on the back cover of my latest novel, A Life Removed. It’s also the original name for the book. Knowing that between the novel’s first and last pages breathes a dark, perhaps distorted (while others might say realistic?) view of the world—one potentially without heroes in the traditional sense—would you want to step inside?
While this is probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written, set in a mirror world where the monsters are as real as those you see on the evening news and chock full of uncertain narrators and faulty protagonists, I did leave room for one traditional hero to give those who need someone genuine to cheer for a reason to keep on reading. Are you one of those people?
If you are, I’m not saying there’s any reason you shouldn’t be. A 2017 Bram Stoker nominee and immensely talented author posted recently (paraphrasing) that if he can’t become emotionally invested in a character within the first couple of chapters, he stops reading. I find this is true of many if not the large majority of readers, myself included.
But can you become emotionally invested in a character whose morals are questionable or absent altogether? Is a flawed protagonist necessarily a weak protagonist? For me, it’s a question of “identifiability,” and if that’s not a word, I’m claiming it as one.
I looked it up. It’s a word.
Anyway, I’m not talking about the anti-hero, who has easily become the preferred protagonist for many horror fans over the drink-your-milk, take-your-vitamins kind of hero: the real Han Solo, who shot first and didn’t stick around to ask questions later; the real Indiana Jones, who is misogynistic, brings guns to a swordfight, and is not afraid to run in the face of danger; or the real Rick Deckard, who may or may not be a replicant if you’ve watched that somewhat incoherent Director’s Cut.
Harrison Ford fetishes aside, modern-day antiheroes are much, much worse. And they’re usually pitted against an adversary that’s even more condemnable.
But the most oft-quoted book for the kind of protagonist I’m talking about is Holden Caulfield, who by every sense of the term, is a cantankerous son of a bitch. I loved him. But these dickhead leads were around way before then. MacBeth was one of the biggest douchebags in all of Shakespeare’s work, yet he’s still called a “tragic hero.”
But let’s bring it to the 21st century and the best-selling novels of Gillian Flynn. In her first three books, her “heroes” are beyond flawed. If you’ve read Gone Girl or seen the movie, can you name anything truly likable about her main character besides perhaps her resourcefulness or ingenuity? The book spent eight weeks on the New York Times Bestseller’s List.
Dark Places, one of my favorite books, doesn’t have any likable characters. The novel presently has a 4.1 star-rating and over 9,000 reviews.
Of course, there are people who liked Libby Day and Amy Dunne, myself being one of them. But for those people who couldn’t stomach them or the rest of Flynn’s flawed cast of characters, what kept them reading if they just didn’t care about anyone? A strong plot? Fine writing? Or do we all have a little darkness (or maybe a bit more than that) in our own hearts and the damning recognition of our own flaws—our weakness, our cowardice, our self-interest, our greed, our bitterness, and maybe even our self-loathing—that we can identify with these characters, walk in their shoes, even as we strive to be more than them?
The simple truth, however, is this: there are exceptions to every rule, and who constitutes a “hero” is in the eyes and mind of the beholder. And if the characters are true to life, they should be heroes on some days and heels on others, for even the best among us has sinned.
Worse still, there are people like me. What does it say about us when we applaud Hannibal Lector for wearing his victim’s face to escape or squeal with joy as Jason Voorhees slams a sleeping-bag-bundled co-ed against a tree?
Fuck it. I’m squealing with joy just thinking about it. That shit is funny.
When he's not working, Jason likes to kayak, catch a movie, travel any place that will let him enter, and play just about any sport (except that ball tied to the pole thing where you basically just whack the ball until it twists in a knot or takes somebody's head off - he misses the appeal). And read and write, of course. He does that too sometimes.