Life is stranger than fiction; yet, a few quirky characters show up in the novels I read. For some unknown reason, I am attracted to “Philip” in W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, to “Joy” in Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People, and to “Reuven” in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen.
You see, Philip has a club foot; Joy has an artificial leg; and Reuven lost sight in one eye. All are sympathetic characters based on their physical “defects.” Sometimes I think I’m the quirky one–being a strange-person magnet.
Perhaps, I’m overdue for psychoanalysis. In such case, I’ll examine myself.
Certain actions can be traced back to learned behaviors. Where did I learn to appreciate folks with disabilities? An incident with my mother, Thelma Groves, comes to mind. I was driving (since she never learned how) in Arizona’s heat, and she was in the front passenger seat observing road signs, steaming pavement, and bicyclists. In near tears, Mom commented on the tattered man at the curb walking his bike. “He’s so hot and tired and poor.”
I wish I could write that I’d stopped and offered the Good Samaritan gift of caring, but I didn’t. To my shame. That was 15 years ago. The compassion of my mother has left a lasting impression as I think of how very much she was like Jesus in her love for the less fortunate.
So, why are readers, like me, attracted to imperfect characters? We join them. In our own character flaws, we see a fallen humanity in need of the one Perfect One, Jesus. He heals the sick and saves the soul, then takes them to heaven. What a Saviour!
PS–If there’s a literary heaven, let’s pray that the novel characters: Philip, Joy, and Reuven are still their same quirky selves. Their creators might want it that way for a perfect read on life.