I wasn’t a slash his tires or leave dead animals sort of girl. Yes, I could curse well enough–may he get two flat tires in a blizzard ten miles for anywhere with a bout of the stomach flu the night before the wedding–but when given the I-like-you-but speech, I said, “Okay, fine,” and left.
End of story. Until one sunny December day before the Christmas holiday. I was eating lunch with a friend, D., in the dorm. D. was in a fraternity and a pledge joined us. “Where are you from?” I asked. The thing was, I already knew where he was from. I knew who he was related to. But he didn’t know me.
He told me his hometown. “Really?” I said. “I know someone from there.” I gave him my ex’s name. His eyes widened. “Hey, he’s my brother-in-law!”
“Is he?” I said. “Your _____’s brother?”
“Yeah! Small world,” he said.
I nodded. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make the wedding,” I said. I was avoiding looking at D. I could feel his efforts to control his laughter. “Was it nice?”
“You were invited?” he asked.
“I still have the invitation as a matter of fact. Say, are you going to see them over the Christmas break?”
“Will you tell them I said hello?”
“Oh yeah. Sure.”
After the Christmas break, I was walking across campus when I ran into D. He shook his head when he saw me. “You’re in trouble,” he said.
“How’s that then?” I asked, checking my watch, not wanting to be late to class.
“_____ doesn’t want to see you.”
I forgot about my class. I felt a wicked happiness surge through me. “What happened?”
D. shook his head. “He told his sister you said hello.”
I thought about how back in the spring _____’s sister had showed up at my dorm room with two friends at 1 in the morning to beat me up. I imagined the family gathering with her and him hearing that I’d said hello. I laughed.
I saw the brother a few times that spring. He never did speak to me again.
In fiction, main characters do not always behave in a noble fashion. They are not saints, but we care about them anyway. Or we should if the writer has done a good job. I struggle with giving a character flaws that will not make her (or him) annoying, wretched, or despicable. Then there are the choices a character must make. The story would wither away if characters made wise, moral choices. But they can’t make choices that turn the reader away. Bad, but not too bad. Foolish, but not too foolish.
Have you ever read a novel where the main character loses you? You start the story and give that character your time and interest, and then what the hell are you doing? you ask the character. Maybe you’re the type to stick with the book anyway or the type to toss the book on the floor. Either way–you no longer care.
Can you remember such a book? Did you keep reading or give it up? Of course, maybe you gave up and forgot. I suppose I’d rather have a dislikable character than a forgettable one. What about you?