Why do we read fiction? Unlike an algebra textbook or a cookbook, our motivations for reading something that is totally ‘make believe’ is unclear. Of course, there are obvious answers to my question – we read ‘for fun’ or simply because we want to ‘know what happens.’ Lately, I have been reading memoirs, but I decided to take a short break and switch back to fiction, but in the middle of the story, I caught myself asking myself – why am I reading this?
I just finished reading the book Indecent by Corrine Sullivan. While I must admit that I read the book quickly and enthusiastically, I can’t say that I really enjoyed the story. What does that mean? I’ll try to explain. Reading Indecent was like witnessing the awkward geek trying to ask out the head cheerleader in the high school hallway – it’s a cringeworthy sight, but you cannot help but stare and strain your ears to catch every uncomfortable detail of the encounter. Indecent is the story of Imogene, a shy, unconfident, uncomfortable 22-year old, who begins working as a teaching assistant at an all-boys, elite boarding school. The adolescent boys smell of money, carry themselves like future presidents and CEOs, and despite their sometimes-crude natures, are whip-smart. Imogene with her working-class upbringing, Buffalo State education, and XX chromosomes make her feel like a sore thumb on an otherwise pristinely manicured hand.
Despite a few uncomfortable interactions with the raucous youths, one teen shows a passionate interest in Imogene that makes her feel accepted like a warm embrace. An intense, illicit affair ensues and the uptight, naïve Imogene hopelessly falls head over heels….
As soon as I saw where the plot of the book was going – authority figure falling for the forbidden student – I wanted to put the book down. Not because of the premise – in fact, I feel this story can be quite compelling (“The Graduate” [kind of], “Dawson’s Creek,” etc.) – but because I found Imogene to be a totally unrelatable protagonist. This classic story took a turn for the unbearable. Imogene exercises horrible judgement at every turn. Imogene’s decisions are so ill-considered (asinine really) that I found myself wanting to disassociate with her as the reader. Why do we read fiction? Sometimes we are wanting to explore new and exciting scenarios that are off-limits to us in real life. A protagonist that is clever, curious, open, and relatable allows us to put ourselves in this person’s shoes if only for 300 or so pages and enjoy a new experience. Even though a protagonist may not always do what we would do, we usually do not question their actions, rather we accept them and follow through with them to quench our own curiosity. Imogene, by design, is no such character. She seems to be the densest one in the room at all times (and that’s saying a lot as most of the action takes place in a boarding school for teenage boys). We want to scream, “no,” and “stop,” and “are you kidding me!?” as she digs herself into a deeper and deeper hole. Everyone makes mistakes, but we cannot feel sympathy for Imogene because we don’t respect her.
If you are looking for a book with scandal or some light entertainment, Indecent certainly fits the bill. However, if you are looking for something more compelling, I would pass on this title.