I’d been debating back and forth on reading Karin Slaughter’s new book, Genesis, why? Because she killed a major character in Beyond Reach. Both books are apart of the Grant County series that is set in a fictional town outside Atlanta, Georgia. The major characters and story arcs revolved around a pediatrician, her ex-husband/cop and the first female cop on the force. The starring role would go to the population of Grant County who had more than their share of sexual abuse, drug abuse and random violence.
Addressing Mortality in Fiction
I must say after the Slaughter debacle, I have changed my views about the mortality of fictional characters. I’d prefer not to see a favorite character killed off but if the plot calls for it and this action brings some value to the story and/or series, I can’t argue too much against it. On the other extreme, what about those authors who never kill off characters? I ran across this article dated 2006 where author Benjamin Webb seems to have a problem with killing off characters, period, in his own stories.
Webb, 26, was praised as a “literary wunderkind” by Newsweek in 2003 after his ambitious first novel, a 452-page account of five generations of a Norwegian–American farm family living in Minnesota. Yet it slowly dawned on readers of his even more ambitious 579-page sequel that the penetratingly insightful young writer had no intention of addressing the mortality of his characters.
You know the grandfather character who was something like 84 in 1973?” said Chicago resident Kaya Bishop, who was referring to family patriarch Per Kjellstad. “The book goes to the modern day, and he’s still alive.”
“Why is he still alive?” she added.
Why, indeed. It’s been a long held belief that killing off major characters breaks the trust between the author and reader. But look at it this way, would you want characters (minor or major) to live forever even though you know it’s not realistic? I’m sure most readers would be up in arms if Roarke was killed in J.D. Robb’s bestselling, ongoing In Death series. I don’t know what this says about us as readers who feel as if death has no place in our fiction reading. I know many readers say that they read to escape fiction well so do I but I know I wouldn’t want to still be reading a series that doesn’t change, doesn’t evolve or have characters who seem to live forever. Those kinds of series, stories tend to be stagnate to me.
I’ve come to accept Karin Slaughter’s decision. Whether she did the right thing or not, only her fans can answer that. I love her Will Trent series and I am prepared for anything. As long as I am outside of the romance genre, I know there is not a obligated contract to keep everybody alive or to end on a happy note. In the end though, it’s about trust, trust in the author’s vision and direction. If you fully invest yourself in a series and trust the author’s vision, it really doesn’t matter how many people he/she kill off. Some of my favorite authors including Diana Norman have killed off characters that I wasn’t expecting. As gut wrenching as it was, I accepted it. Addressing mortality in fiction isn’t such a bad thing necessarily. It’s not fun but it is realistic and I’ve just learned to accept it and move on. How about you?