Friday, September 12, 2008

Making a Literary Life: Memorable Characters

Memorable characters leap off the page and stay with a reader long after a book is closed and returned to the shelf. Reading like writers, we study our favorite characters in fiction, frequently making recommendations to each other. Whether the ones you've come to love are from novels you've read years ago or just last week, we'd love to know your favorites.

Lisa Marnell
I loved Maddelena in A Kiss From Maddelena by Christopher Castellani. Was she the victim of circumstances, meeting the wrong man at the wrong time, or did she simply make a foolish choice that changed her life?

Amy MacKinnon
Inman from Cold Mountain rattles my bones. It's as if Camille Preaker of Sharp Objects lies huddled in one of my upstairs bedrooms. Deenie is a dear, dear friend, someone I spent a lot of time with when we were children. Meursault from Camus' The Stranger still haunts me. Pauline Chen's 83rd organ procurement from Final Exam will leave you gasping for air (did you see Dr. Chen's new column debut in the New York Times?). And then the cast of characters I reunite with every so often because they are so dear to me: Stu Redman, Nick, Frannie, Trashcan Man, Larry Underwood, the Walking Dude aka Randal Flagg, and darling Tom. Don't you know this book?

Hannah Roveto
I love Pat Wood's Perry L.-for Lucky- Crandall in Lottery. Love him, love him, and his Gram and Keith. I know them, had lunch with them: microwaved burritos and a soda. Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay are complex, unwinding as each page turns. Quoyle in E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News is so solid I couldn't see the movie, for fear those images would remove the ones I hold so clearly. Christopher Boone, the autistic boy in Curious Incident by Mark Haddon... Celie in Alice Walker's Color Purple... oh, how the list goes on!

Lynne Griffin
Oh, there are so many! The unnamed, second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier is a wonderful example of a multi-layered, complicated character whose inner motivations make her physical attributes almost unnecessary. Leo Gursky in Nicole Krauss's, The History of Love is so fully drawn, I feel like he's a relative or friend. And Jennie in Portrait of Jennie, by Robert Nathan exemplifies how to craft characters across the stages in human development.


Look for Marilyn Stasio's review of Tethered in this weekend's New York Times Review of Books!


ORION said...

oh wow hannah thanks!
I think there's nothing more wonderful than creating a character that stays with readers-
One of my favorites is Owen Meany from A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Amy! I had no idea. The ONLY time in my life I have called in sick to work when I was not sick--was when I was reading The Stand.

It was--1980? Maybe? I picked up the phone, called the station and said--um, I'm not coming in today. I'm umm, not feeling well.

I wasn't one bit sick. I was obsessed.

Amy MacKinnon said...

I'm not surprised, Hank, it's like that.

The first time I read THE STAND was the summer I spent in Falmouth with three college friends. One started reading it, she went off to work and I picked it up. For the next three days, we fought over it, discussed it in detail, and sat beside each other, reading aloud certain passages. It is far and away one of the best books ever written. The characters live within me.