27 Oct 2011

Is goodness boring in fiction?

4 Comments New and Exciting, Personal Thoughts, Uncategorized

In a recent article in the Financial Times, Lionel Shriver (author of There’s Something About Kevin) writes about characters who are morally unattractive and how readers often react (or overreact) to their flaws. These characters typically have personality traits that we recognize in ourselves and therefore may provoke wholesale rejection of the novel in question. Not to be confused with the literary hero (Atticus Finch, Hester Prynne, Joe Kavalier, Jane Eyre) or anti-hero (Snopes, Ahab, Iago), the characters Shriver refers to are “difficult, complicated, maddening and remind you of people you know–who remind you, if you’re honest, of yourself.”

These defective characters (think Nathan Zuckerman) provoke the reader to make moral judgments, and by extension, perhaps of the work of fiction itself. As Shriver asks, “Is it possible to sympathize with characters, while still despairing of their misjudgements?”

Can you recall a character whose actions were so hard for you to accept that your personal feelings overshadowed the quality of the fiction? What are some examples? Let us hear from you.

And, by the way, this writer likes goodness in fiction. One recent heroine that stole my heart is Hema in Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.


written by
Lisa Forman Rosen is an avid reader and facilitator of book clubs in Miami, Florida. She has worked at the University of Miami since 1986, first in the Department of English Composition as a lecturer and now at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine as a writer. Lisa created this site to share her love of literature with others and expand the conversation into the virtual world.

4 Comments for“Is goodness boring in fiction?”

  1. Reply Joan Leader says:

    Many years ago, I read “Jephte’s Daughter,” by Naomi Ragen. I disliked the father so
    intensely that I had absolutely no desire to read anything else she’d written. And then I had an “Aha” moment. I thought, “Wow, if she created a character that created such strong emotion within me, she must be a pretty powerful author.” I’ve repeated this story many times in the last twenty years (or so) but it was definitely a turning point in my love
    of literature. I will continue to READ ON!!

  2. Reply Bradley Colosimo says:

    Thank you for posting this info. It is really essential for me.

  3. Reply Lynette Mcfalls says:

    Amazing resource! Many thanks for creating it. Keep working that way.

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