Friday, April 25, 2014

My Best of 2013 in the Year of the Unlikable Characters

It has been a great year for reading, fueled mostly by serving on the Maine Reader's Choice Award (MRCA)committee. A notable year for the number of books that I read.  A notable year for the number of books that featured despicable characters who made the books so likable.  Hats off to the authors who accomplished this feat. I feel sorry for those readers who don't appreciate great talent, giving books bad reviews because they didn't like the characters.

As I look back on my lengthy list, I realize that creating a "best of" list for this year isn't an easy task.  Memorable characters, memorable writing, memorable settings and more. So, here's my best effort - no particular order.

This is the book that deserves to be first on the list - Wiley Cash's debut novel, A Land More Kind than Home, which won the inaugural MRCA.  It's a masterfully written book that follows a young boy as he deals with the death of his mentally challenged brother, his mother's relationship with a less than respectable pastor, and the destruction of his family.  The story is told through three voices with perfect harmony.

Kevin Powers' Iraqi war novel, The Yellow Birds, is the book that I voted number one for the MRCA. Powers, a well known poet and war veteran, deals with the aftermath of one soldier's tour of duty in Iraq. Thrown together by the fate of their assignments, two young privates forge a deep friendship, which when destroyed by the war leaves an indelible loss, the inability to overcome the guilt of that loss, and the long-lasting effects of the soldiers' unfortunate circumstances.  The prose is of such a high quality that it brings the telling of a very tragic story to a high level of insight into the book's characters and sense of place.  Some reviewers have used "classic" in their reviews and, in this case, it is certainly appropriate.  The book opens with a line that is most memorable...."The war tried to kill us in the spring." 

Ah, this is the book that hands down wins the despicable characters.  Another MRCA book, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl tells the macabre story of a woman's disappearance and her husband's suspected responsibility for her disappearance.  A very well-crafted story that brings about strong reaction to the characters.  I mostly listened to the book and every night after my commute I'd come home and tell my husband, who had already read the book, how much I hated Nick.  He would get this wry smile on his face and just tell me to keep reading.  Then, I'd come home and say, "I hate Amy."  Again and again I was admonished to keep reading. The end of the book finally came and it offered no solution to the situation. Rottenness through and through. A great psychological thriller that will leave you fuming.

Speaking of despicable characters, here's another book populated with less-than-likable characters...very well-populated.  It's J. K. Rowling's Casual Vacancy.  I don't think there was a single character in the book that had any redeeming qualities - from the youngest to the oldest.  The novel features a small English town that is riled by some Internet hacking. The suspicions of who is doing the hacking grow as do the bad acts of the residents. From the youngest to the oldest the outcomes are sad.  The novel is very well written and it's unfortunate that so many find it unreadable because of the bad nature of its characters.