RARA-AVIS: character development

From: Carrie Pruett ( pruettc@hotmail.com)
Date: 31 Oct 2001

>Carrie wrote:
>"All of the characters besides the Op are totally static and basically
>flat. They don't change and only in a few instances does the progress of
>the story reveal anything new about them."
Mark wrote:
>Why must a character change? (Yes, I know it's one of the textbook
>traits of the novel.) To me, some of the nbest hardboiled and noir
>revolves around a character who does not change, who may even be
>actively fighting against changing, trying to hold onto himself no
>matter what comes.

Well, first, I'm making no claims about what a character "must" do but contrasting what Hammett does with his characters with what I think most readers today expect out of their characters. Certainly it's what readers and writers of "literary" fiction are told to expect from characters. I'm not making any "should" statements here. Also I'm allowing two possibilities for a character driven story: characters that change OR circumstances that reveal more about the character. I think it was Yeats who talked about "character isolated by a deed." I totally agree - both in terms of genre and literary fiction - that it is a mistake to put too much emphasis on "character change" versus "character revelation" (often revelation by changed circumstances while the character remains the same).
>You seem to contrast the Op and Spade, but how does Spade change.

No I'm actually not as if you'll go back to the first sentence in this post you'll see that I said "all of the characters besides the Op" are static
(unchanging) and flat (no new levels revealed beyond our first picture of them). Hammett shows the Op getting deeper and deeper into the Poisonville morass, and in fact he does a fair amount of mental hand-wringing about
"what kind of person is this turning me into"? (not that this changes his behavior one bit, which I actually think makes him more interesting).

As for Spade, I don't know that he actually changes, but certainly more levels are revealed of him as the story progresses. The hand shaking as he leaves the meeting with the baddies comes to mind - that's not something I would have expected based on the first page description; though as I'm thinking about it, like many things in "Falcon" I can't remember if it's in the book or just the film. I *think* it's in the book though and it is a terrific character moment. Also the revelation at the end that he's not as crooked as he seems - itself open to lots of interpretations - and the nuances of the relationship with Brigid are not the stuff of static, flat characterization.

>He is
>the same person at the end of Falcon as he was at the beginning, an
>amoral man defined by his job, who gives up the possibility of change,
>through love, to remain the same man.

Well we may be getting hung up on definitions here, but I think a character who faces possibilities and rejects them has in fact gone through a number of changes, even if he ultimately ends up in the same place (which again is open to debate). Anyway, as well-plotted as "Falcon" is, it's the interaction between Sam and Brigid that kept me interested, moreso than the rara avis itself which is really just a McGuffin to build the story around.

>ps -- Carrie, Touch is very good, but it is very atypical of Leonard (a
>strange little book, but strange in a good way).

"The Switch" is the audio book I checked out. What's this one like? I'll find out myself when I get to the end of "dead souls" by Ian Rankin; a page-turner, figuratively speaking, but way too many plots. He makes Connelly look linear - besides which, John Rebus is essentially the same character as Harry Bosch; don't know off hand who's been around longer, but other than having a kid and playing slightly better with others, there's not a helluva lot of difference.

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."
-James Crumley, "The Last Good Kiss"

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