Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Meddler

If you’re a voracious reader (or movie-watcher, or both) you’re likely to have become familiar with various tropes and cliches. Some are more genre-specific, such as a ‘chosen one’ in the realm of fantasy and sometimes science fiction. Some cliches can be fun, if carefully worked with, but others just annoy the fuck out of me.

The particular topic I am going to discuss today is typically seen in a certain genre, though you can find this character in nearly any other genre in varying capabilities.

This character type is often seen in the romance genre and is usually a secondary character to the story. It can be a friend of the main characters, or a neighbor, or relative, or such. She – and I’m not trying to be sexist here, but it often IS a she – goes by various names and epithets; meddler, busybody, pushy, and so on. They also have the tendency to think themselves above the rules, whether actual rules, such as in a workplace, or the rules of polite society. Many authors often take this cliché too far, creating characters that do not endear themselves to the reader.

Two examples come to mind – Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich, and All At Once, by Nora Roberts. I was very disappointed in both books.

Big Girl Panties is a romance novel centered around a personal trainer and a widow who’d had a difficult childhood before watching her husband die from cancer. I liked this book at first because it seemed to be an unconventional romance with a believable storyline. However, we are then introduced to the character of Amanda Walker. She is the wife of Chase Walker, Logan (the male lead)’s best friend.

Amanda sees the potential for romance between Logan and his client and teases Logan about it. It is clear that Logan and Chase have long experience with her bossy personality, but they still let her walk over them, resigning themselves to the fact that she will find out about this or that sooner or later. She came across as a know-it-all, and even after Chase told her in no unclear terms to leave Logan and his client alone, she still finds ways to push everyone’s buttons. With a blatant disrespect for other’s personal lives and spaces, Amanda’s meddling comes across as someone bored with their own life and needing to prove themselves smarter than others by being like, 'ha! See, I was right!’. Ugh.

Normally, I enjoy Nora Roberts books. I’ve read about a dozen of them, but All At Once was terribly disappointing. It is a two-story collection, and my focus is on the first story. It centers around a woman and her longtime best friend founding a summer camp for tween girls that happens to border an apple orchard owned by a handsome and wealthy man. (You can see where this is going, right?)

One of the campers is a, if I remember the age correctly, twelve-year-old girl named Roberta Snow. She is a very intelligent but devious and manipulative character who acts under the guise of innocence. The female and male lead of this character meet by chance, when Roberta and a couple of her friends sneak over into the orchard – a blatant violation of the camp rules that Roberta is well aware of. When caught, she will act all sweet and apologize, and when your back is turned, she will be off breaking another rule. When she catches wind of the male lead’s interest in the lovely female lead who is also her counselor, Roberta gleefully gets herself into the role of matchmaker and manages to embarrass Eden more than once. Honestly, I didn’t blame Eden for wanting to strangle Roberta.

The story is brought to its denouement with Roberta breaking YET another rule (and in somewhat dangerous circumstances) and forcing a confrontation between the orchard owner and the camp counselor. The male lead was arrogant and kept disrespecting Eden’s boundaries but THAT is not the kind of character cliché that is being discussed in this essay!

In both of these books, these two unrepentant meddlers go on about their merry way after the book is ended, with no repercussions for their actions, the feelings they hurt, the toes they stepped on, and the embarrassment and anger they caused towards the people they were trying to “help”. The only time I am amused by this character cliché is if in the end, the meddling character gets his or her comeuppance in some way, because too many of these 'I don’t care if this annoys/angers/embarrasses you, I’m just trying to help and you will accept my help whether you like it or not!’ assholes really need an ass-whooping, or at least a bitch-slap.

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