Tag Archives: literature

The Ambivalent Protaganist

by Casey Baker

Recently, Huffington Post published an article (link:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-fallon/great-male-protagonists-w_b_4044741.html) naming a few male protagonists from famous novels that no one would really wish to befriend if they existed in the real world. While the piece is an interesting, rather pro-feminist examination of generally brutish male characters, it leaves out an entire gender and examination therein.

Which led me to consider, of all of the characters I’ve met in the great Imagi-sphere that is the act of reading, which ones have I encountered who were both entirely compelling and also incredibly off-putting? Here are my top five.

1. Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar – While Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel is a strong examination of the stilted social mores of women during a specific time in history and the effects of those mores that still holds great weight today, Esther is someone I would never want to simply ‘hang out’ with. This isn’t to say she is an uninteresting protagonist, rather the opposite – as the old adage goes, “Misery loves company” and Esther’s way of thinking is so relatable to anyone who has lived under the oppressive, patriarchal hetero-normative society that still informs our culture today. A day with Esther would involve venting together, crying to let it all go, and then feeling miserable for the rest of the day. The novel is enough catharsis.

2. Tyler, Shampoo Planet (Douglas Coupland) – Tyler is what Coupland labels a “Global Teen” and part of Generation Y, a generation that I unfortunately belong to simply by a matter of years. Tyler embodies everything I dislike about my generation, including a mindless adherence to consumerism that even reaches into a desire to be a corporate CEO simply because corporations control so much of the consumer media, a misplaced admiration in Reaganomics, flightiness in both life and love, and a copious amount of hair products to keep up a facade of stability and self-assuredness. By the end of the novel, Tyler finally realizes that his interests are transient and not based on anything real or sincere, but by then he has already ruined things for himself in many ways. I suppose a part of what I dislike about Tyler is that he does remind me of some elements of myself at a much younger, more naive age.

3. Clay (Bateman?), Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis) – Clay is a spoiled, rich Southern California jerk. His friends are detestable, his life is by and large meaningless, and he is generally an amoral bit of driftwood, floating along a tide of drugs, sex and unhappiness. While Clay is fascinating because his life does well to satirize much of the LA culture and its excesses in a very dark series of parties and meaningless relationships, he is also someone who would casually sit across a dinner table with you, coked up and barely paying attention. A real sleezeball. It doesn’t help that his brother is possibly the one and only American Psycho, Patrick Bateman.

4.  Shannon McFarland/Daisy St. Patience/Bubba Joan/Whatever, the narrator of Invisible Monsters (Chuck Palahniuk) – After getting her face shot off, the narrator of Invisible Monsters meets the queen of train-wrecks, Brandy Alexander, and the two go on a pill-stealing, soap-operatic crime spree of epic proportions. While the narrator and her story are hilarious and continuously compelling throughout the several ridiculous plot turns of the story, she’s also incredibly psychotic and someone you wouldn’t even trust with your dying houseplant. Steer clear of this brand of crazy, despite how fabulous she seems.

5. Ms. Valerie Frizzle, The Magic Schoolbus – While the idea of shrinking into microscopic sizes and exploring the cells of the body or diving deep into the dark, black ocean with a bus submersible seem incredibly fun for any kid, the reality of the situation is that this woman is more than a little deranged, willing to put her students right into the jaws of danger just to teach them a lesson about plant chlorophyll or the inner workings of stomach acid. Ms. Frizzle is a dangerous woman with dangerous ideas.

What are your type five fiction frenemies?

Weeks Five and Six

by Ayo Khensu-Ra

Week Five
As I’ve noted before, the our class time has been much reduced thanks to three holidays in the early part of the semester. And in week four* we had our reading as chronicled so well by Michael…Finally we were back to a more regular class and it was much needed in the poetry group as we had only had one short session thus far. Kaylo and I are co-poetry editors and we’re joined by readers Monty and Kristine — Kristine being a late and much welcome addition to the group. We shuffled off to an empty classroom to get down to discussion. Class meets in a computer classroom which has its benefits but isn’t the most condusive to discussion. How much can I really write about talking? Probably not a whole lot. I will say that the discussion is one of the things I always find the most interesting and stimulating — talking about what works and what doesn’t in a given poem, hearing different perspectives, views I perhaps would not have come to. We got through several submissions and, excitingly, we got our first solid ‘yes’ of the semester. We did have some strong ‘maybes’ in our first session but in week five were the first we all really liked, the first pretty much assured to be going into the magazine. Of course, time was still short and while we got plenty done there was still much more to do…

 

Week Six


And considering all there was to do, I was a tad worried during the week. It bears mentioning that we had to have a pretty good idea of what was going in by the end of class on Monday. An out-of-class meeting would’ve helped but that didn’t quite square with everyone’s schedules but Monty and I met before class and narrowed the field a bit. In class, we were joined by Steve who kindly offered to lend a hand (and read all the submissions in a day or so (90+). It was another good discussion, once again taking place in an empty room. There were plenty more ‘yeses,’ a lot of good poetry, a lot of agreement, some healthy disagreement and when time was up we had a pretty good idea of what was going in.

We also had an assignment to critique a short story and the whole class talked about the assignment and story itself (more the story than the assignment.) The class wheeled our chairs out from behind the desks and formed a circle — or perhaps more of an oval — to talk. The story was interesting from a technical standpoint, and engendered various reactions from the class.

*I am counting only weeks we have actually had class, perhaps it would be more precise to say class number five but I think week five sounds better.