Am I Supposed to Like You?

I just finished reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth early this morning. Its title is a million times cooler than it is. Seriously, just read that title two or three times and you’ll have had a better reading experience than I did.

So many writers are just plain bad at characterisation. This is especially apparent in these current days where the amateur has such easy access to getting read. As disappointing as the lack of skilled character-writing is, there is another inherent problem with this.

It’s hard to tell if one, as the reader, is meant to like the character or not.

I tend to read books that don’t actually have some higher message to convey–or at least, the writer made such a poor attempt to do so that I either missed it or laughed it off. Particularly in YA fiction, the writer just isn’t trying to be devious. It’s just a story. Enjoy it.

By “devious”, I mean that they don’t try to write The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. No unreliable narrators. No intentionally wrong viewpoint characters. In fact, one is usually meant to sympathise with and even adulate the main character. (ew)

Which is why I found myself so confused by TFoHaT. The main character, Mary, is psychotically selfish, from her concept of what love is to how she makes decisions and acts.

Her “love” is one that is technically impossible, in an unconvincing and contrived way, and although she angsts on and on about it, she absolutely never makes even a token attempt to withstand temptation. Unless you count repeatedly listing the people whom she is hurting by going after the guy.

IIRC, there is a point where she and her friends are the only survivors out of the entire village-the whole of the only world they have ever known–and she still responds to seeing her crush with his fiancée with violent jealousy.

Her other selfish conceit is that she is obsessed with the idea of going beyond the village to find the ocean. It comes off as a “poetic” dream that she clearly values more than anyone’s life, including her own.

In fact, thanks to her single-minded, outright destructive pursuit of this stupid dream, everyone else basically doesn’t survive. Two characters, one of them her supposed love interest, die as a direct result. The others are abandoned, and flipping tell her that that is precisely (and literally, in the end) what she is doing to them.

I cannot honestly say that I think the writer meant to give us a character with whom we are not meant to sympathise. I think we’re actually supposed to want her to get what she wants.

Personally, I wanted the zombies to eat her.

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