Liking Unlikeable Characters
By Karen Ballum on July 05, 2012
Tucked into Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot, you find letters from Alice's sister Elizabeth to her therapist. They provide context and backstory for many of things that Alice forgot, but they also show that Alice isn't the only person who has changed a lot in ten years. I have to confess that at times I almost wished the book was about Elizabeth rather than Alice.
Elizabeth is a bit of a mystery when we first meet her. When Alice wakes up not remembering anything of the last ten years she's certain that Elizabeth will set her to rights. She's surprised to find that she and Elizabeth aren't as close as they used to be. What happened to them? What's happened to Elizabeth?
What happened to Elizabeth is that she and Alice ended up on very different paths. Elizabeth had always thought that she would be on the same path as Alice. In fact, the ease with which Alice was able to have children was one of the reasons for that. When Elizabeth discovered that she had trouble conceiving she was stunned. As her rounds of fertility treatments continued and she had multiple miscarriages, the gulf between her and Alice widened. Elizabeth pushed people away and then resented that they were not close.
At times, Elizabeth is a hard character to like. She's tough and prickly and avoids telling anyone anything if she can avoid it. Sometimes she was just plain mean and I found hard not to like Elizabeth, or at least sympathize with her. She's sad and angry and I don't know many people who wouldn't be somewhere on the same sad and angry spectrum as Elizabeth if they were in her position. The novel may have been what Alice forgot, but it was also about what Elizabeth forgot. Elizabeth forgot that she was loved and that family really did care about her.
What did you think of Elizabeth? Do you ever find yourself liking unlikeable characters?
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