The Anti-Paranoid Protagonist vs. the Accumulating Coincidences?
November 13, 2014 10:08 AM   Subscribe

There's a particular device or pattern or plot-type that I *think* might be an actual thing, but I'm not sure. It involves a character who *ends up* entangled in Deep Weirdness of some sort, after experiencing a series of seemingly mundane coincidences, but who never really becomes paranoid about the coincidences and only starts to believe Something Is Up when things get *really* weird. I'd love to read more stories about characters like this.

Book example: In Susan Cooper's classic YA novel "The Dark is Rising", the protagonist, Will, experiences a number of mildly odd but not quite odd enough to be definitively meaningful things over the course of the day or two before his (spoiler) super-powers start legitimately kicking in.

E.g., animals start backing away from him, radios emit static when he walks past, and a skylight latch breaks, dumping snow into the middle of his bedroom. Throughout all this, he is wary, but not immediately convinced the events actually have anything to do with him.

What other literary (or film, or, heck, even real-life accounts as long as they're interestingly written) examples exist of this type of scenario?

It seems like it is more common to find writers using coincidence either to illustrate that a character IS of paranoid/anxious temperament, or in ways that are a lot more obviously plot-relevant from the get-go. E.g., to invoke another YA fantasy example: Harry Potter experiences a number of odd things prior to finding out he's a wizard, and doesn't seem *that* shaken by them initially but that story would *not* fit my criteria because the "odd things" in Harry's case consist of genuinely, objectively bizarre phenomena (panes of glass disappearing, etc.).

In contrast to this, what I'm looking for is examples of stories where multiple *everyday, subtle, coincidences* occur but only become relevant in hindsight.

The coincidences can be due to fantastic forces (as in "The Dark is Rising") or due to being gas-lit (gaslighted?) by other people, but the defining factor about them is that they aren't actually all THAT weird in isolation.
posted by aecorwin to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think at least the beginning of Murakami's 1Q84 may meet your criteria -- in the beginning of the novel, Aomame notices several small things that are incongruent to her, such as the kind of weapon policemen carry, the image on a billboard, etc, which leads her to the realization that she is living in an alternate version of the world.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:16 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kraken by China Mievile
posted by 256 at 10:22 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't Look Now, by Daphne Du Maurier.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:52 AM on November 13, 2014

I think Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go might fit your requirements.

Also maybe The Subtle Knife, which is the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:55 AM on November 13, 2014

Most of Tim Powers' books work like this. Declare is probably his best, although it jumps around a bit in time, so the "growing weirdness" is maybe a little blunted. Also Jonathan Carroll's books (or at least the first 5) do this to often disturbing effect.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:56 AM on November 13, 2014

I'll recommend the first of the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony: A Spell for Chameleon.

But it seems that in order to tell you what I think this fits your criteria, that would spoil one of the major plot points.
posted by CathyG at 10:57 AM on November 13, 2014

Isn't this Dana Scully in practically every episode of The X-Files?
posted by doctor tough love at 11:24 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Little, Big by John Crowley

In which Smoky Barnable falls in love with Daily Alice Drinkwater and slowly but surely discovers himself to be caught up in a Tale as big as the world.
posted by jammy at 11:36 AM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Matrix?
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:56 AM on November 13, 2014

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy kindof does this
posted by lizifer at 12:07 PM on November 13, 2014

Is it okay if the character never notices? A character in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Carrot Ironfoundersson, is surrounded by clues and coincidences that could only mean one thing, but he blithely accepts them all as normal, and never notices. It is implied that another character has put together all the clues about what happens to Carrot, but he is happy to let Carrot remain oblivious to these facts which would totally overturn Carrot's world if he only noticed how weird it all was.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:20 PM on November 13, 2014

The Game, David Fincher dr, 1997
posted by glasseyes at 1:35 PM on November 13, 2014

Charade, maybe?
posted by Room 641-A at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2014

This sounds like the classic Hitchcock movie "North by Northwest".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:31 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wonderful suggestions so far! My reading wish list definitely has some new entries. :D That said, "North by Northwest" (which I only saw recently for the very first time) is a superlative example of the kind of story I am looking for. The protagonist does get suspicious, but it takes a while, and the "mundane coincidences" are spot-on as far as making the narrative so deliciously unnerving.
posted by aecorwin at 4:34 PM on November 13, 2014

I think it's implied that Carrot at least has an idea about what it is, but he's perfectly happy to stay in his current role in life.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:55 PM on November 13, 2014

Maybe in later books, but in the book in which he is introduced, he is clueless from start to finish.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:50 PM on November 13, 2014

Ack, I somehow mixed up "North by Northwest" with "The Lady Vanishes" in my previous comment...was thinking of the latter. But my guess is this just tells me I need to seek out more Hitchcock!
posted by aecorwin at 7:59 AM on November 14, 2014

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