By Laura Caldwell
I’m not a big fan of vilification, whether it's in fiction or in life. But more and more, I seem to be the only one who doesn't have the stomach for it. Public figures these days are either on pedestals or, once they have committed some transgression (at least in the mind of the media), they are smacked to the figurative ground, then beaten silly by gossip and strident tongue-lashing from news “experts.”
I find the whole vilification process not only distasteful, but false. We crime writers have been taught that a villain in a novel who is a 100% evil is, generally, just not interesting, in part because the character won’t strike the reader as true. I guess this is why, to date, I have not written about any serial killers. Yes, they do exist, but they seem so evil as to not be particularly fascinating to me. I don't know what the answer is in terms of the media's handling of news "stories," but I do know what the answer is for me in my writing. I want to write people--characters--whether they're considered good, bad or in-the-middle, who have complex reasons for their actions, who are motivated by one thing at one time, and then maybe something else entirely a few days down the line, just like the rest of us. Because really, the villains, "the bad guys,” are just like everyone else—maybe they're just nastier, maybe they just care a little less about their consequences.
I recently finished Dan Chaon’s novel, Await Your Reply. Sakey and I met Dan a few months ago when 57th Street Books organized an author support group of sorts (of course at a pub) following one of Dan’s local signings. I bought the book shortly after, didn’t have a chance to read it until a recent trip, and am now am terribly disappointed that I’ve finished it. Because Choan masterfully works with the concept of good and evil, making the reader guess—or maybe just decide on their own—who the real villain is in the story, or whether there is one at all.