A Hard Look in the Mirror
What do Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Flannery O’Connor’s Grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, Nabokov’s Humbert, Camus’ Mersault, Melville’s Ahab, Faulkner’s Snopes clan, and, closer to home, Hammett’s Continental Op and Cain’s Frank and Cora have in common?
They are not likeable.
They are, however, something else.
Of all the criteria for responding to a piece of fiction, the question of a character’s likeability seems to me to be the most reductive and least productive. It’s the equivalent of donning a set of blinders before you go sightseeing.
Crime fiction, even more than other genres, seems susceptible to this kind of criticism; it’s hard to imagine crime writers not hearing at some point or another in their careers that their characters are not likeable or not likeable enough to keep readers turning pages.