My first MFA course is winding down so I thought this would be as good a time as any to start sharing projects. Here’s one from a novel I really enjoyed reading…
Project: Select a character from the novel “Last Night in Montreal” and discuss whether or not that character is compelling. Explain why or why not.
Private Investigator Christopher Grayden’s daughter, Michaela, has such a profound purpose in the novel Last Night in Montreal. I found her compelling in large part because of her many parallels and juxtaposition to Lilia and because of the level and sincerity of her pain throughout the story.
As we read, we cannot help but be drawn to Lilia. She is the main character and all eyes are on her and, just like every other character in the book, we, too, can’t help but feel that she needs our help. She’s just a little girl, fragile and helpless but throughout the course of the novel, we see her grow into a woman. We get to experience her strength, resolve, intelligence and we understand how much she is truly loved.
After a while, we learn that there is really no reason to worry about Lilia. What we may have missed though along the way, as the other characters seem to have missed too, is how much Michaela needs help. She is just a little girl, too, just like Lilia, when she gets abandoned by not one but both of her parents. While Lilia has her father guiding, providing and loving her, Michaela has no one. She is left to fend for herself while everyone focuses on Lilia.
While everyone searches for a lost Lilia, paying close attention to her, sniffing out and following clues along the way, Michaela is being ignored as she cries out for help. She begs for attention, in a positive way at first, by getting good grades and even showing an interest in the circus, something her mother and father were once interested in. When positive doesn’t work, she shifts to more desperate measures and starts acting out like any kid in her position would do. Michaela is dropping clues of her own left and right, begging for help, but she is being ignored. She is desperate for anyone to love her and pay attention to her, but she never gets that. In the story, she starts to show us signs that she is jealous of Lilia and who could blame her? While this may cause the reader to dislike her (or even fear more for Lilia as we can’t help but wonder if Michaela’s jealousy will lead to an act of violence against Lilia) at first, once we start to understand Michaela better and see how fragile and shattered she is, then we begin to truly understand her and want to save her, too. But just like the characters in the story, specifically Michaela’s own father and Eli, by the time we realize she needs our help, it’s too late.
Michaela’s climactic death took my breath away and changed my whole focus as well as what I’d previously resolved in my mind as the purpose, plot and path of the novel. In addition to how she affects us as readers, we also get to see and experience how she affects the other characters in the novel. While some characters grow because of her existence causing us to perhaps like them more, like Eli for example, other characters show weaker, uglier sides of themselves. When Michaela is speaking to her father and says “You’ve been chasing her since we were both eleven years old” it’s like she is spelling out what’s wrong with this picture. I personally wanted to shake Christopher and scream, “Can’t you see what you’re doing to your own daughter?”
While everyone, including the reader, is focused on and busy feeling one thing or another for Lilia (whether it be the feelings of unconditional love and concern from her own father, fear and hope from her brother, jealousy from Michaela and her mother, love and infatuation from Eli, or an addictive competitive desire to save her from Christopher), Michaela is ignored and lost in the shuffle.
Lilia is able to eventually grow up and find herself perhaps because she has people loving, helping and guiding her along the way, while Michaela is on a lonely one way path toward destruction. While all eyes are on Lilia, Michaela is the one left truly abandoned, alone, broken and lost along the way.