Contemporary mainstream novels often leave me feeling like I’m reading the same thing over and over again. The settings might be different. The characters might be taller or shorter. They might have different jobs. The events might be tragic in different ways. Still, they have the same theme: Life is hard and then you die.
Yes, I know we all reach that end eventually, but even when the dying doesn’t take place in the novel, it’s obvious the characters are just going to go through the same destructive rituals right up until it happens.
I recently tried a present-day novel by a celebrated author. I was hoping for fresh insight into the human condition. Instead I got the same thing I’ve read too many times before: Characters in relationships they find unsatisfying and jobs they find unfulfilling plod along their well-established rut for three hundred pages never figuring out why they weren’t happy.
To clarify, no poignant motivation was forcing them to stay in the relationships, and many people would be overjoyed to have their jobs. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t recognize the opportunities. They would never be (as Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield hopes for himself) the heroes of their own stories.
I don’t need a hero in everything I read, but I definitely prefer novels where stuff happens and characters do things that affect the direction of the story. Even when they are not heroes, they try to act heroically, according to their own needs and nature.