Annasue McCleave from Publishers Weekly suggested during an interview with Claire Messud, “I wouldn’t want to be friends” with Nora, the fiery protagonist in Messud’s new novel, The Woman Upstairs. “[Nora’s] outlook is almost unbearably grim,” continues McCleave.
Messud shot back:
For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘is this character alive?’
Not only is Messud’s snappy response funny, but it is also solid advice for writers: Worry less about whether readers will “like” your characters and more about whether they are truly alive on the page.