Monday, February 24, 2014

Minor Characters You Remember

In GOODBYE, COLUMBUS, by Philip Roth, there is a very minor character that has stayed with me for the forty plus years since I read it first. The protagonist has a job at the Newark Public Library and he notices a young black boy spending his summer days looking at art books. The boy confesses that it is Paul Gauguin he loves to look at. He can't imagine a place like Tahiti. Neil goes on to protect the boy from the other librarians who believe he will deface or steal the book. And it is that boy I remember today. Roth painted the boy so vividly, and also that library in Newark. I can picture him still paging through that book on an upper floor, dreaming about going to a place like Tahiti.

Is there a minor character in a book that you remember well?

The original NYT review, right here. 

My Tahiti



18 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Now, that's an interesting question! There've been several characters I remember who weren't protagonists (or antagonists) but were still memorable. Lois (from Megan's Die a Little is quite memorable to me - so well-crafted. There are others, too.

Al Tucher said...

Patti, here at NPL we periodically get queries from people who want to get hold of the book the the boy was looking at, and we have to explain that it is fictitious. It happened again a week or two ago.

John Irving and Saul Bellow are good for those minor characters. In HUMBOLDT'S GIFT there is a hilarious character named Menashe Klinger, who is an ex-boxer and aspiring operatic tenor.

George said...

When I first saw EASY RIDER, I was struck by a minor character who I later learned was Jack Nicholson. Same thing happened when I saw THELMA & LOUISE: Brad Pitt just jumped off the screen for me.

Anonymous said...

There were several minor characters (including a girl named Janey) in LONESOME DOVE that made a big impression on me.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

No doubt we remember minor characters from movies more easily because we have a face to put on them. A picture's worth a thousand words sort of thing.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I thought of you when I wrote it, Al.
Glad the book is still being read and that people still dream about a better life for themselves.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, I remember every secondary and minor character in The Hardy Boys. These would include all of Frank and Joe Hardy's friends. HB initiated me into reading, maybe that's why it has stayed with me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good point, Prashant. I guess the books of our childhood stay with us. Also series minor characters.

Charles Gramlich said...

Some of the minor characters in the Harry Potter series were extremely cool.

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

(Embarrassing typos in the previous comment)

Boo Radley and the boy next door to the Finches in To Kill a Mockingbird

Ellen James in The World According to Garp

Melony in The Cider House Rules

Pretty much any character who is the outsider, misfit, or misunderstood one is the one I will notice and the one who will stay with me more than the protagonist.

Kelly Robinson said...

P.G. Wodehouse was a master of memorable small characters. I hardly know where to start: "Catsmeat" Potter-Pirbright, Stilton Cheesewright, the fascist Spode, etc. Gosh, and then there's Dickens. My favorite non-main character of all time might be Malcolm from Shakespeare's Macbeth. He's sort of my dream man.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Here is a nice piece by Ed Lynskey on some of his favorite minor characters. https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/3677979-a-few-unforgettable-minor-characters-i-ve-read-or-watched

pattinase (abbott) said...

I always liked the character of John Henry West in A MEMBER OF THE WEDDING.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Ellen James is a great example. She was the one whose tongue was ripped out, right?
Yes, tortured souls get my vote.

Ed Lynskey said...

Great blog post, Patti. Thank you for the blog link.

RT said...

I suppose he is not really a minor character, but Enoch Emery in Wise Blood is a most memorable fellow. Who cannot fall in love with such a sad, lonely misfit? Perhaps, Patti and others, you can think of someone more memorable in Wise Blood, but for me it will always be the unhappy Enoch.

BTW, Patti and others, in a related topic, I invite you to weigh on my blog's topic -- the worst book you ever received as a gift. I bet you cannot top mine.

Cap'n Bob said...

Peter Ortiz as Captain St. Jacques in John Wayne's Rio Grande. The guy was the essence of dashing and wore an eye patch to boot.