Mr. Reliable he isn’t

After I’ve invested time reading a book for group discussion, the conversation had better include more than just plot.   That’s why the La Frontera Barnes & Noble literary bunch (Round Rock New Neighbors) merits regular attendance.

Our latest meet centered on Jim Thompson’s now-classic crime novels.  Amid all the noir-ish activity, suspense, and gore, one topic highlighted the session for me–the unreliable narrator.  This point of view can infuse more impact than any deed the character perpetrates.

The realization that this narrator can’t be trusted–because he/she is biased, error-prone, ignorant, fronting an agenda (or some devilish mixture of these) sets up just the sort of challenge that lovers of character-driven fiction relish.

Take Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (which, by the way, you should read before you see the film, if only to determine whether it’s really the movie for you.  Obviously, the story is still haunting me).   In Killer, your vantage point consists solely of the reporting and perceptions of Lou Ford, a small-town sheriff with big-time psychopathological issues.  On the one hand, Lou holds back no detail, however incriminating.  On the other hand, the mere fact that he appears to savor this blow-by-blow (literally) commentary calls his veracity into question.  He’s authentic, but is he truthful?  He’s certainly unforgettable.

All this is not to suggest that reliable narrators are less than engrossing.  I just finished Karin Muller’s Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa.  Muller is a sympathetic, trustworthy reporter, and not just because Japanland is non-fiction.   The author’s self-confessed cultural missteps unwrap social complexities to thwart the sincerest of intentions.  As Muller soldiered on, collecting documentary footage and delving into hidden realms of Japanese culture, I was both empowered by her emotional stamina and entertained by her wry observations. 

Japanland invites comparison to Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling Eat, Pray, Love, but I preferred Japanland.   If you’re intrigued, come to one of the library’s adult book club sessions on August 3 and share your thoughts.  You’ll also want to check out the library’s copy of the Japanland DVD.  You’re too late for this role, Julia Roberts!  

Leave a Reply