Thursday, February 1, 2007

You Be the Judge

If you've ever watched any of those "courtroom" television shows like Judge Judy or The People's Court, you've heard the expression about coming to court "with clean hands." Basically what it means is that you lose credibility in the judge's eyes if your testimony involves you having committed an illegal act. For example (a broad example, I admit), someone who purchases two ounces of oregano believing he received marijuana cannot sue the dealer because the purchase was illegal to begin with.

I bring this up for a reason. Many times I read a story that has been highly recommended by someone else (or many someone elses) and I just plain don't get it. I don't fall in love with the characters. It's even been known to happen in stories that are sequels where I originally loved the characters. A prime example would be Hannibal, the third in the Hannibal Lechter series. Now, I loved Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, touted them both long before Sir Anthony Hopkins signed on to play the good doctor. But the ending of Hannibal, the twist taken in Clarice's character, left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. (No pun intended!) Now, Hannibal does all sorts of illegal, immoral, and just plain creepy things, and I didn't have an issue with it because I never identified with Hannibal. I was never meant to identify with Hannibal. I was the voyeur, watching, learning who he was, trying to figure him out. In a nutshell, I was Clarice. And when Clarice's actions became questionable in that third book, the fascination died.

Why? Because she no longer came to the story "with clean hands."

I've started books where the heroine meets the hero when she somehow gets caught in an illegal act or the comedic element of the opening chapter involves a questionable action and pffft! That quickly, I'm gone. I don't want to be the Moral Judge for the literary world, and the things that bother me certainly don't have to bother other readers. But if I'm going to enjoy a story, I have to be able to put myself in the characters' shoes. And Goody-Two-Shoes that I am, you won't catch me tricking a guy into crawling into bed with me, or leaning out a car window driving and videotaping at the same time, or stealing a guy's wallet so I can return it at an opportune time and make myself look like a godsend.

But that's just me. the world of characterization, what would make you give up on a highly recommended book?