"Her protagonist, Frida, isn’t much of a heroine. She’s annoying, self-centered and tragically naive."
from Sara Sklaroff’s review of CALIFORNIA in the Washington Post.
I have many feelings about this:
1. A mention of Frida’s flaws and immaturity should be paired with a mention of Cal’s. It’s interesting to me that so many readers hate on Frida, but not Cal. They’re both frustrating and difficult! For me, Frida’s flaw is that she is a brat. Cal’s? He is a coward. What do you think?
2. A couple of reviews have called Frida immature. That’s true, in some regards. But let’s review: She’s in her late twenties. Before she moved in with Cal, she lived with her parents. The world went to shit when she was very young and she never got a chance because of that. Her brother died and her parents weirdly took it out on her. She has been isolated in the woods for two fucking years. I mean…! She is doing pretty well, considering, no?
3. It seems to me that readers want unlikeable characters only if that’s the book’s”thing”—that is, if the text makes a nod to that as its project. But if a character is occasionally petty or immature or unkind, as we all can be, then it can be difficult for some readers to get over. This is fascinating to me.
4. Don’t get me wrong, Frida drives me nuts. And I love her. She is a human being.
5. What do you think of Frida? Cal?
I genuinely don’t understand reviews like this? I haven’t finished the book yet, but it’s pretty clear to me that Cal is the one who would deserve to get more criticism for his lack of heroics? He’s crunchy enough to go to Walden College and be one with his surroundings, but he also has no faith in humanity whatsoever and refuses to admit that pregnant women need certain things that he alone would be unable to provide or find or whatever. He’s a much more passive character than Frida is.
I don’t know. I guess I just don’t think books owe me nice characters, but EITHER WAY, I don’t think either Cal or Frida are THE WORST PEOPLE EVER. I think it’s realistic that they both keep secrets, and it’s normal to want to be part of a community, and maybe pregnant people deserve to be a little self-centered sometimes, we can’t all be self-sacrificing all the time.