Ah, Mr. King, you’ve done it again. I have been waiting to get my hands on some of your most recent novels, but, poor as I am, have had to be content with staring longingly at the book section of Walmart. Last week, I finally got my copy of Mr. Mercedes. As usual, I find in your writing a refreshing blend of humor, uniqueness, and, of course, captivating plot and characters. Some people might call you strictly a pop fiction writer, but I would wager they hadn’t read enough of your works, especially the later ones, to be able to discern your true talent. For instance, the tying together of a meta- plot arc spanning basically the whole of your writing career in the Dark Tower series took epic writing chops, so sayeth this humble writer. Some reviews have no doubt referred to your writing in “literary” terms, and I think this is more accurate, because you don’t just write stories, you write characters…real people. Yes, I am fully aware I sound like a gushy fangirl, but, believe me, I am coming to a point (I think.) I read and love your writing so much I know it has influenced my own, from the “artistic liberties” I take with sentence structure to the very tone of my writing. Your stories make me think.
Mr. Mercedes is no different. I am still in the thick of the novel, but the villain in Mr. Mercedes has gotten me thinking, and… I think, therefore I BLOG. Although I have some educational background in criminal justice, and have done quite a bit of reading on sociopathic killer-types, I really can’t say for sure what your “typical” villain might be like. Brady Hartsfield seems to fit a lot of the established characteristics (and maybe some stereotypes?) for sociopaths. He’s arrogant, narcissistic, seems socially underdeveloped yet is great at faking proper social interactions. His moral compass is completely off kilter (he still thinks he knows right and wrong, but his morals definitely don’t conform to social norms.) He’s also fairly intelligent…and perhaps also predictably, he does consider himself smarter than the rest of us sheeple.
And yet, like most criminal/villain types in pop culture, he is stupid. Not in the intellectual sense, so much as the moral sense, I suppose. As if we didn’t have enough reason to dislike Hartsfield for committing mass vehicular homicide (and then writing a letter to brag gleefully about it,) you wrote him as a casually unapologetic racist. While he doesn’t overtly go out of his way, at least not that I have read yet, to commit acts specifically for a racial agenda, throughout the narrative of his internal thoughts, he displays his tasteless views on everything from inter-racial dating to black people with “white names,” and peppered in there, in case you need more convincing, is his flagrant use of the N-word.
Now while all of this of course did achieve the likely purpose of causing me to dislike him even more, I found also that it put me off of his “character” as well. What I mean, I guess, is that many readers may dislike a villain for his actions, but like the function he serves in the story. Let’s face it; some characters make good villains (Hannibal Lector immediately springs to mind as an iconic good villain.) They have flare, charisma. They’re clever. Some of them even start out with sort of sympathetic reasons behind their villainous actions.
This douchebag, Hartsfield, while admittedly “clever” in the sense of planning and execution of his crimes, has sort of lost any credibility (with me, at least) as a good villain. As intelligent as he may be in some ways, the fact that he displays such racist ideals just proves his ignorance and selective use of intellectual and logical thinking, and thus causes him to go down in my estimation, even as a villain. While this may seem like an obvious statement (uh, duh, racism is stupid) what was more curious to me was how this changed my dislike for him, from simply thinking of him as a nut-job with a murderous agenda to thinking of him as a narcissistic, weak-minded brat.
So, if there is a point to this whole excursion into mental diarrhea, I suppose it’s that (in my book at least), If you’re a villain, it’s okay to be a psychopathic killer… as long as you’re not a fucking idiot too.
Thanks for coming along, readers.