There are characters in fiction that occupy my head, and I suspect you have these too. Serious readers take their fiction seriously and rightly so. Fiction can shine a light on different facets of reality and speak to emotional, spiritual and universal truths. I love it when an author creates such developed and distinctive characters that they remain with you for weeks, months, and even years after you complete a novel. There are the classic characters, of course, that many people would cite as being indelible—Heathcliff, Pip, Elizabeth Bennett, Jay Gatsby, Atticus Finch, the list goes on and on. The characters below are among those in novels I’ve read (or re-read) within the last year or two that have left their mark.
June from Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Although she dies in the opening vignette, June is the central character in Erdrich’s novel of interconnected stories. She is fragile, life-worn, and weary but also strong, loving, and beautiful. June is the Aunt who always has gum in her purse.
Dad Lewis from Benediction by Kent Haruf
Dad Lewis’ terminal cancer brings family and friends together in Holt—a fictionalized rural community in the eastern Colorado plains. His diagnosis causes him to reflect upon his regrets, but readers also see the worth of this gruff, yet kind and loving, man. What most remains with me is a flashback of his visit to Denver to see his estranged son. The scene is breathtaking in its spare depiction of the divides we cannot or will not cross within our families. It was one of those—put the book down, take a deep breath, and cry a little bit moments.
Amir from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Most people may remember the pure goodness and kindness of Amir’s childhood friend, Hassan, but Amir is a much more realistic and complex character. Haunted by his failure to do the right thing at a critical moment, he carries a secret with him from the age of 12 into his adulthood, all the way from Afghanistan to the United States. Amir’s story is a universal one—how do we make peace with our past failures and forgive ourselves?
Nelly from The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
I could probably include all three main characters from this brilliant debut novel, but Nelly’s voice is the strongest. Trying to keep the death of their parents a secret, Nelly and Marnie are trying to survive alone to avoid going into the care of social services. Despite (or likely because of) her traumatic and bleak early childhood, Nelly develops a refined, Queenly affectation that is equal parts charming and heartbreaking.
So, what voices are occupying your head these days? Tell us who some of your favorite and most memorable characters are.