Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Composites

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Late to this, but I just spent the past half hour clicking through Brian Joseph Davis's Composites project. Weird to see faces put to characters I feel like I've known -- particularly Judge Holden, Woland and Pinkie Brown.

I guess one's reaction to this sort of thing is an evaluation of accuracy: is this what I thought the Misfit looked like?

But for me it's hard, because I have to admit that I had no idea what the Misfit looked like. I mean, if there were a film of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and they cast this face as the antagonist, I guess I'd be happier than, say, if Tony Danza got the part. But it's not as though I can measure this against some ideal I had in my mind.

It got me thinking about whether or not I ever have a clear idea of what characters in fiction look like. The Judge, at least, has always existed more as a presence for me in Blood Meridian; I'm not sure I had a specific portrait of him in my head as I was reading, or when I've thought about him since, which is a lot.

And this in turn has made me wonder what the point is of a novelist describing a character physically, unless they're meant to be an entity like the Judge (especially when he takes off all his clothes). Like, do we really see Emma Bovary, despite being told "the skin of her nose was drawn at the nostrils"? (Better: "her eyes looked at you vaguely," which conveys the sort of interiority that really makes characters in fiction memorable to me.)

Fictional characters exist for me more as spectres, vague columns of flesh and light and feelings that move through the world of the book. Maybe it's because, especially with Pinkie (one of the best teenagers, ever, in fiction, I think), that he's so emotionally vivid that I align myself wholly with him; I don't so much see him as see how he sees. I mean, I don't walk around thinking about how I look -- or, more so, I'm not aware of what I look like to other people. I guess truly vivid characters, the ones I feel most attached to, are primarily just faceless extensions of myself.


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Pasha Malla

Pasha Malla’s first collection of short stories, The Withdrawal Method, a Globe and Mail and National Post book of the year, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the Trillum Book Award and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the Giller Prize. His latest book, People Park, is forthcoming from Anansi in July 2012.

Go to Pasha Malla’s Author Page