Then there are the characters at the other end of the spectrum, whose understated demeanor might cause them to slip through the binding, if not for the depth of their humanity. For me, I have always been fond of characters who are flawed. Not just quirky or odd, but deeply, deeply flawed.
For that reason, one of my favorite characters in literature has to be Quoyle from Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.
For those of you who’ve read this vast and remarkable book, you know that at first pass Quoyle isn’t much to write home about. (An early description of him claims: “Head like shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back.”) And soon the reader realizes he’s got far bigger problems than his unfortunate appearance. His unfaithful wife has perished in a car accident and left him to care for their two daughters, Sunshine and Bunny. Reeling from the loss, Quoyle decides to move his daughters to his ancestral home on the coast of Newfoundland.
There’s no question that Quoyle isn’t the flashiest character ever to hit the page. Far from it, he’s unabashedly dismal in his personal pain and bereft of self-worth but it is that rawness that compelled me and kept me riveted through his journey. He is flesh and bone. He is lumbering. He is an open wound. He is a father who stumbles. And his love and devotion for his daughters, though often overshadowed by his own fears and compulsions, is so apparent when it surfaces, and so close to the skin, it broke my heart wide open. He observes and he worries. He pines far too long for a woman who was one great big train wreck. He struggles to connect to coworkers and to family, but when he falls for a neighbor, his tenderness is as vital as his anguish.
But most of all, Quoyle grows. He proves that everyone has something to propel them forward, even in the bleakest of environments and circumstances. He is hope. And as a writer, I long to create characters like Quoyle, characters who find their way under a reader’s skin and refuse to come out, characters who can’t and won’t apologize for their own simplicity, crippling though it may be.
How about you all? Do you also connect with characters who struggle to connect themselves?
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