We’ve all been asked the fun little question, “If you could invite 3 famous people to dinner, living or dead, who would you choose?” And, sure, we’ve all got our go to list that indeed would make for an interesting evening. Modifying this little question with a variation on the theme of books, we’re going to look at 3 great novel characters I’d like to “invite to dinner.” My selection process was pretty simple; did the character 1) provoke strong emotion like laughter out loud, empathy/sympathy, sorrow or even anger, 2) have character traits that were almost superhuman yet carried out with reserve and self deprecation, or 3) endure some tribulation beyond the scope of most of our daily lives?
So, in no particular rank, here are 3 characters that I’ve absolutely enjoyed reading, and, if only possible, would be thrilled to climb through the fiction time portal and meet them in their world.
#1 Special Agent Aloyius Pendergast (Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston; Relic, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Diogenes Trilogy, and Helen Trilogy)
Agent Pendergrast, perpetually dressed in black, is an eccentric, suave, and sophisticated FBI agent. Though based out of the FBI's New Orleans office, Aloyius often travels out of state and country to lend his almost supernatural competence and powers of investigation to cases that interest him. Agent Pendergast came to life in the 1995 novel Relic, and since then, he's starred in 11 more, with my personal favorite being The Cabinet of Curiosities in 2002. Aloyius studied anthropology at Harvard University and received a dual PhD in Classics and Philosophy from Oxford University in England and is rumored to have an IQ approaching 180. Though a polyglot with an appreciation for the finer things in life when it comes to cuisine, wine, clothes and cars (he's got an awesome Rolls Royce Wraith and chauffeur), Aloyius remains a polite, southern gentleman at heart.
Here’s a typical Agent Pendergast response to a rather wealthy criminal who is holding a gun to his head and is seconds away from pulling the trigger; ”What is it the Arab sages call death? The destroyer of all earthly pleasures. And how true it is: old age, sickness, and at last death comes to us all. Some console themselves with religion, others through denial, others through philosophy or mere stoicism. But to you, who had always been able to buy everything, death must have seemed a dreadful injustice.” Aloyius meets all of the three selection criteria I mentioned in the opening and is a sure thing to entertain.
#2 Owen Meany (John Irving; A Prayer for Owen Meany)
Owen is a dwarfish boy with a strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend's mom with a baseball and believes--accurately--that he is an instrument of God, to be redeemed by martyrdom. Owen's portrayal of baby Jesus in a Christmas pageant, and his glimpsing a tombstone with his death date while enacting A Christmas Carol, are top notch comedic performances. Owen has delivered many colorful bits of "life logic.” One of my favorites is, "When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time -- the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes -- when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever -- there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” Owen is simply a timeless classic from the genius of John Irving.
#3 Edward, a stoneage family patriarch (Roy Lewis; Evolution Man, Or How I Ate My Father)
This hilarious tale of an “upwardly mobile Pleistocene cave family," offers highly-revised accounts of the invention of fire, the origins of courtship, art, and language, and much more. The clan is led by patriarch Edward, who has invented fire which he calls "portable volcano,” and is pushing, pushing, pushing for mankind to evolve at a faster rate. The fire innovation leads to BBQing and thus a major dietary alteration, a tool to show the large carnivores of the day who is boss; thus chasing them from prime cave real estate, and, most of all, providing leisure time for arts, education, and general stone couch potato time. One insightful Edwardism that would unnerve even the modest creationist; ". . . flint tools, fire, inter-horde marriage, these are just the tip of the glacier towards evolution. To every other species beware! Either submit or you shall disappear from the surface of the earth. We will be master here; we will outfight, outthink, outmanoeuvre, outpropagate, and outevolve you! That is our policy and there is no other." 100% guarantee you will laugh out loud at least once while reading this little piece of magic.
So who are your favorite novel characters?