Aaron and His Characters: An English 101 Guide to The Guides

quoted author avatar
Written by Dave Heal 2 years ago

Aaron Goldfarb is not an asshole. 

That is perfectly clear when you talk to him. He’s gracious and smart and, as a writer for Esquire, full of the kinds of Dude Knowledge that this would suggest. If you need to know where to get a particular kind of drink in NYC, he’s the guy you talk to. (Bug him on Twitter at @aarongoldfarb.)

He’s also a new husband and a Brooklynite and a Syracuse Orange basketball fan. And I, as a native son of Rochester, NY—where we borrow our sports allegiances from neighboring Buffalo and Syracuse—am probably under some loose provincial duty to give him the benefit of the doubt. I promise you, though, that if he were an asshole, I’d tell you.

I say all this because there is a school of simplistic literary criticism that insists upon reading books as if the characters were mere extensions of an author’s lived experience. You find a character in a book that is saying some reprehensible stuff and draw a straight line back to the author. That line is even straighter if the character happens to even superficially resemble the author. Lots of readers do this. I do this. It’s easy.

We do this less if we are reading Serious Literature, where we’ve been trained since middle school to think of characters as simply another element in the story. Sure, a reader can often detect where the author’s sympathies lie. But the characters are, fundamentally, understood to be the tools the author uses to teach us something about the universe she’s created. When you open Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, the first thing you do—after cursing your 10th-grade teacher and whining about how big it is—is not to wonder aloud whether the protagonist, Clyde Griffiths, is a proxy for the author, whether all his utterances and feelings are also the author’s.    

When you read the first few chapters of The Guide for a Single Man, you encounter Les, immediately post-breakup, making the kinds of sweeping generalizations about dating and women that are hard to read but are familiar, at least in their intensity, to most anybody who has had a relationship go sour.

It then becomes tempting to wonder whether Aaron is Les. Or maybe he’s Devin, Les’s buddy and confidant. But I encourage you as readers to just read the books and suspend the biographical criticism. Les is an immature guy and definitely starts out as a major dillweed. Maybe, as a man, you stopped acting like him, or even thinking like him, decades ago. Maybe you don’t recognize yourself at all. But there’s a journey that these men (and women) are on that needs to start with some bad behavior. Because redemption is never very satisfying if the journey begins with your average, moderately well-adjusted person. And there’s nothing funny about middle-of-the-road.

We were so excited to work with Aaron in part because he wanted to tell a fairly conventional romantic story (albeit with his own flair) in an unconventional way. Two books that deal with the same characters on the same night but told from two different perspectives. We hope you enjoy them!    

Check out The Guides-Bundle: The Complete Set

comments powered by Disqus

Further Reading On FG Press