Friendly Fictions

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.


2 thoughts on “Friendly Fictions

  1. In response to your first paragraph, I tend to read for enjoyment, and for me that means that I spent time with characters that I enjoy. That’s not to say that everything that happens in a book has to be nice and happy, or that every character has to be someone that I would be friends with in real life, just that I need to have some reason to like at least some of the people in the book, or I won’t care what happens to them.

    And I hated “Crime And Punishment”. Absolutely hated it. I had to read it in high school and it went a long way towards souring me on the whole idea of literature.


  2. Sure, I can see that. It’s my own deficiency! When I read I’m looking at the mind behind the matter. I want to find out what they think, how they think, how they go about expressing how they see the world. I tend towards more obscure, less popular writers, those who are driven by some wild inner impulse, not for fame or fortune. I guess I read the author more than I do the story.


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