I came across a one-star review recently where the main complaint was that none of the characters was likeable. I thought this a little sad. At first I wondered what the reviewer thought of Crime and Punishment. Later it made me think about the whole idea of looking for friends in fiction. Personally, I don’t often become attached to characters in books, certainly not nearly as much as I did as a child. Perhaps I’ve had too many real friendships come and go and leave their marks to let too many fake people into my heart. But that’s my own limitation.
Most of us tend to invest a great deal of emotion in our various fictions, whether it’s our belief system or the general way we go about filtering most of reality out of our sight and out of our mind. Our worlds are almost entirely fictional constructs, and we need to believe in their reality or else how can we even go about our daily routines? If we were to suddenly conclude that those blue jays outside our windows actually knew everything we were thinking, or if we genuinely realized how fricking dangerous it is to drive a car among all those other idiots on the freeway, we would lock our bedroom doors and lower the blinds for good.
Our fictions don’t always perform their jobs very well. Religions are supposed to ease the mind about death (among their other functionalities) but it turns out that “the nonreligious have an easier time coping with death than do the religious, at least with their own mortality”. We have art critics determining what’s good and what’s bad, but we could just as easily consult with pigeons or mice. One man thinks he can change the world by revealing state secrets, though not so long ago it seems he was more concerned with becoming a fashion model. The fictional worlds we construct for ourselves veer wildly throughout our lives. In the end it can come down to competing shows by ex-wives, girlfriends and admirers each vying to reveal the real person behind the legend, but no one can ever see the whole truth of any other one of us.
Some people are just fictions in and of themselves! Love them or hate them, their entire lives seem to be public performances. In a world where even houseplants perform mathematics nightly, what’s not to love about this universe we know so very little about, even now.