Wednesday, May 01, 2002

John Irving Gets Away With Murder

Thinking about fiction all of a sudden. You know, in his novel The Fourth Hand, Irving does something so great, it just knocked me out. Most writers could NEVER pull it off. He turns his protagonist on his head, and keeps him dangling there for a while. He makes you question everything about the hero you thought you knew -- and everything about yourself you thought you knew.

In the novel, Patrick Wallingford, the womanizing TV anchor who is finally so close to getting the real girl of his dreams, a girl who is NOT his usual prey and has him essentially dumbfounded — a nice girl who would not usually go for a womanizing cur — the hero suddenly questions himself about whether in fact he's a "nice guy." Oddly, although we as readers start out by thinking he's a jerk, by the time he's close to being with this nice girl, we kindof like him and we want him to win her and when he hesitates, it is personally painful.

The poor shit's world just about comes undone in this moment of doubt. He's not a guy that ever doubts himself -- or certainly not his ability with women. In fact, he's always predicated his life on the fact that he's a good guy, a nice guy and suddenly he realizes maybe he's NOT.

It's such a deft move to pull off in fiction. It perfectly describes what we ALL do when we grow up and grow old — we spend a life time thinking we're good guys and then something happens that forces us to question everything in our lives. At dark times — in deaths, in divorces, on dark nights, we come up against a scary feeling. We wonder, "ARE we the good guys?" And the hero of the book does this -- a really shallow guy basically -- but when he does this, it's quite amazing.

Does he get the girl? Gotta read the book.