Not long ago, a new reader suggested I was too hard on myself . The gently chastising e-mail I received from this person cited several examples selected from a few dozen of my more recent posts to support the assertion. Though I don't share this kind reader's view, the careful attention that went into the e-mail did prompt me to reflect on my ceaseless journey to self improvement, a journey littered with fits and starts. What does your journey look like?
More importantly, to whom or to what do you turn to for solace as you try to evolve into a better person? Considering that thoughtful e-mail, I found myself deriving a measure of peace by thinking of well drawn, flawed fictional characters. Prickly and perceptive Olive Kitteridge came first to mind. The tentative forward steps Olive takes in Elizabeth Strout's remarkable cycle of short stories are often accompanied by a step - or several steps - back. The wholly organic way Olive is brought to life has lingered with me for several months.
After Olive, I next thought of Kitty Fane, the love-starved heroine in "The Painted Veil". Reading W. Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel years ago, I clearly recall how genuine Kitty's growth - and her slides back into astonishing selfishness - felt to me. Show me a clear, uninterrupted arc of growth in a fictional character and I'll show you a cliché. Life, like art, is not linear.
I share no surface characteristics with the flawed main character in "Americanah" (2013), the novel that currently has me firmly in its grip. Ifemelu is young, female, black, & Nigerian. But her acts of self-sabotage, her interest in the world, her arrogance, and her loyalty to her family each help reveal a deeper bond we share, thanks to the skill of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. Ifemelu and I are on this journey. So, thanks new reader for helping put Olive, Kitty, and Ifemelu into the front seat with me.