I recently finished Maria Semple’s fun novel This One is Mine, and it threw me for a bit of a loop. At first it read like typical plot-driven fiction, with blow jobs and heroin-shooting and infidelity jam-packed into the first few pages. You know, the kind of book you can’t put down. The plot moves quickly, the vapid LA landscape is perfectly rendered–but I kept thinking to myself, do I actually like any of these characters? And the answer was: no.
Ah, but the loop: by the end, I did. Semple somehow casually inserted enough humanizing details that she began to make us like and pity the self-professed asshole, the valley girl, the cheating wife, the drug-addicted lover. I felt like I’d somehow gotten the wrong first impression and, sheepish, had decided to look again.
Tricky, maybe, but a welcome and refreshing change to what I’ve been thinking of as the Anti-Hero Problem. Lately it feels like everything I read–and certainly, everything I watch–is filled with anti-heroes. My hubs B and I are talking about it. He couldn’t stomach the entire season of Breaking Bad because he despised everyone too much after a while (I didn’t even try). We’re onto House of Cards now, and, while I have to confess I’m pretty into it, there’s a part of me that’s wondering which characters I’m rooting for. I’ve felt this way about so many TV series I’ve tried to get into, and so many books, too. I read a Carl Hiaasen novel a while back and disliked everyone. And I’ve talked before about my issues with excellent writers like Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Franzen, writers whose work I so admire but whose characters I have trouble respecting. It seems to me it’s become very cool to be…unlikeable.
Am I crazy? Is anyone else noticing this penchant for the anti-hero?
Back to Semple; I did really admire the subtle way she shifted the landscape in This One is Mine. I don’t know her work very well (though Susan Szafir interviewed her over on Popcorn a while back, which you should read!), but I think I’d like to read more.