Sunday, August 30, 2009

Great Character, But...

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork is the third autism novel I've read. A few years ago, Anonymous and I had a brief discussion on how many books on the same subject you needed to create a genre. Is autism getting there?

I loved Marcelo, himself, but I may be the only reader of this well-starred book who wasn't all that taken with the story. It seemed heavy on lesson for my taste. All the good characters work for the poor and sick, and all the bad characters are corporate lawyers or their secretaries. (Okay, okay. You're going to say that's just like real life, aren't you?) As I read this book, I felt as if I was supposed to be learning to do good.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to teach readers to do good, of course. I'm just one of those who believe that in fiction, you need to be really subtle about it.

I also didn't get the side trip to Vermont to visit the coarse, beer-swilling farmers. And why include a coarse, beer-swilling farmer with Alzheimer's? If it was necessary to get Marcelo to Vermont so he could be exposed to the restorative aspects of nature or something, it would have kept the story more on task to somehow send him to the Weston Priory. Marcelo did have a special interest in theology, after all, which included a desire to say the rosary. Instead of being friendly with a rabbi, Marcelo could have been friendly with a monk.

Maybe there will be a sequel.

Marcelo in the Real World has a lovely cover, which Blogger won't let me upload for some reason.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also have mixed feelings about Marcello. There's a strong lesson there about how People with Asperger's have feelings, too. Which is all good. But it morphs into People with Asperger's are just like everyone else, down deep, toward the end of the book. And you know? That isn't true.

It's a really, really, good book, and I hope that lots of people read it. At the same time, I feel like the author had to sacrifice something in his characterization of Marcelo in order to make him main stream enough that readers would identify with him.

3:18 PM  
Blogger gail said...

That's an interesting point. I can't claim a great deal of knowledge about Asperger's, but I did feel that Marcello was able to understand a number of situations--about other characters' motivation, for instance--that I thought he, as he was presented to us as a character, should not have been able to understand. The characterization was inconsistent.

I suppose an argument could be made that good characters should be dynamic and evolve, but should Marcello have been able to evolve in that particular way?

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, exactly. If a character doesn't grow, you don't have a *story* in the conventional sense. So what is an author to do? The author of Dog in the Night produced an unconventional story. Marcello's author produced the conventional story but did it by fudging the characterization. On the one hand, Marcello speaks of himself in the third person, on the other-- the books says toward the end that he senses reproach in his father's voice.

I was very interested in the father, actually. His characterization seemed conflicted in a good way.

12:50 PM  
Blogger gail said...

I thought the father was interesting, but...what about that business with Jasmine? Though it was foreshadowed, as far as character development is concerned, it seemed to come out of nowhere. One of the two most powerful men in the company puts the moves on the twenty-year-old in the mailroom? Did we ever see anything to suggest he was the kind of sleeze who tries to take sexaul advantage of young, institutionally powerless women?

The same with Juliet the bitchy secretary. She had quite a powerful position as secretary to one of the partners. Would she really condescend to hassling the summer help, someone she considered to be mentally handicapped? Especially when he was the child of one of the owners?

Yes, I think characterization was sacrificed in more than one place.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Debby G said...

Wow, I thought I was the only one who wasn't gaga over Marcelo. I thought it was good, but not great.

I'm a lawyer and my husband is a lawyer. We're not all bad people. My husband is one of those partners in a big firm that is stereotyped to be evil. But he spent over 1,000 hours working for free to help save the San Diego symphony when it was in bankruptcy. And he's a good husband and caring father to our three kids. Even big firm partners can be decent people, believe it or not.

I also found the characterization inconsistent. It seemed Marcelo was sensitive when it was important to the story that he be sensitive.

And it did seem like the city people were painted as bad while the country folks were generalized as good.

4:45 PM  
Blogger gail said...

The country folks were generalized as good, but in a stereotypically coarse way.

2:11 PM  

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