Full, well-rounded characters in American fiction
November 3, 2010 3:54 AM   Subscribe

What contemporary American authors of literary fiction are considered masters of creating compelling, multi-dimensional characters?

Bonus points for specific novels featuring fat secondary characters. Super-duper bonus points of the author slips and provides only cliched, stereotypical depictions of said fat characters.
posted by ferociouskitty to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Thomas Pynchon. Sometimes.
posted by Ahab at 4:20 AM on November 3, 2010

The second part of your question is a little confusing, because I'm not sure whether you're using "fat" in the literal sense or as another way of saying "well-rounded." I'm going to assume the latter.

Paul Auster gets my strongest recommendation. He's been churning them out at a really fast pace lately but they're so good, especially the last two. Dipping into his older stuff, I recommend "The Music of Chance."

David Mitchell is going to get mentioned a lot here, so let me pre-empt that inevitable quarrel by recommending that you begin with his "Number 9 Dream," which has some incredible character development.
posted by jbickers at 4:20 AM on November 3, 2010

To clarify part 2, I mean actually fat. Obese. Rotund. Full-figured. Plump. Plus-sized.
posted by ferociouskitty at 5:30 AM on November 3, 2010

David Mitchell isn't American, thoughbut.

Not literary, but I've found Jennifer Weiner's writing of fat characters to be very well done. Chicklit often really, really fails here (tip: if your 'fat' character wears clothes from Topshop, they are not any reasonable definition of fat) but hers are three-dimensional and not just characterised by their weight. I'm struggling to think of any literary characters to be honest - many writers fall into the cliche trap there.
posted by mippy at 5:35 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stephen King's characters are amazingly well written.
See Harold Lauder in his novel The Stand for your specifics.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:02 AM on November 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Define Literary.

Donald Westlake was (died last year) a mystery writer whose protagonist Dortmunder is a bit round.

Dortmunder's sidekick Tiny Bulcher is about the size of Brooklyn.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:05 AM on November 3, 2010

George R. R. Martin's A Song Of Ice and Fire series (which I'm re-reading again at the moment, hence why it springs to mind) has some excellent complex main characters and at least one supporting fat character who plays an increasingly major role as the series goes on.
posted by corvine at 6:06 AM on November 3, 2010

I would recommend John Irving and William Faulkner.

Regarding fat characters, I recall that one or more novels by Kenzaburo Oe have characters that are fat or obese.

I disagree with Jennifer Weiner comment. Granted I have read only one of her books but found the characters extraordinarily one-dimensional and shallow.
posted by seesom at 6:29 AM on November 3, 2010

Robert Jordan's wheel of time series is chock full of pretty well developed characters, esp. for how many there are. i'm sure there are some fat ones, and he always describes physical attributes in an amusing way.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 6:52 AM on November 3, 2010

Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy O'Toole's Confederacy of Dunces comes to mind re: fatness. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to Faulkner (particularly great at having women as complex as men)--read As I Lay Dying, The Unvanquished, or The Sound and the Fury if you haven't already. All the King's Men has excellent, subtle (indirect and unspoken, really), multi-dimensional character strengths (aspects of it remind me of the subtle things Fitzgerald did with Nick Caraway). Arguably Carson McCullers in places. Gina Berriault. Christina Stead (oh wait, she was Australian, alas).

Speaking of. Not American, but you should read Ishiguro sometime if you haven't. He's a master at making flawed characters who tell you as much about their depths, regrets, etc., etc. with what they don't say or what they say in the most repressed way as anything more direct. Super excellent at portraying that, how identity is constructed in every moment as much by the flaws in your internal language/broken mirror as anything else.
posted by ifjuly at 7:18 AM on November 3, 2010

Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone.

From Publisher's Weekly: "Anesthetizing herself with junk food and soap operas, Dolores becomes an obese, isolated young woman who attempts suicide during her first semester in college and spends seven years in a mental institution."
posted by morganannie at 7:27 AM on November 3, 2010

Ah, my bad, you said contemporary. Mea culpa, here's an offering: Mary Gaitskill. Try her short story collections or the newer novel Veronica (I loved her first novel, but a lot of people didn't...the relationship between the two women in it gets at me sometimes out of nowhere).
posted by ifjuly at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2010

...though, now that I think of it, I guess I should recommend the first novel because it fits your criteria for a fat character: Two Girls, Fat and Thin.
posted by ifjuly at 7:34 AM on November 3, 2010

2nd John Irving for well-rounded characters, always primary, and often secondary (Owen Meany).

As for literally fat... A Confederacy of Dunces features a big boy as the protagonist...

What about the Of Mice and Men with the rounded George and the giant Lenny?
posted by jander03 at 7:40 AM on November 3, 2010

Will Self's My Idea of Fun features an antagonist/secondary character named "The Fat Controller."
posted by googly at 8:19 AM on November 3, 2010

I disagree with Jennifer Weiner comment. Granted I have read only one of her books but found the characters extraordinarily one-dimensional and shallow.

Ah, I was referring to Good In Bed.
posted by mippy at 8:20 AM on November 3, 2010

Too bad Weiner's Cannie in Good in Bed couldn't get the dude until she lost a bunch of weight.

I'll definitely second She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb for having a very complex heavy character, although she's the star instead of supporting cast.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2010

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