Biblioracle: My 5 favorite books with the weirdest narrators

Writing recently in his newsletter, Lincoln Michel (author of “The Body Scout”), championed books narrated by the “weird little freaks of the world.”

I am here today to second that call and put the good word in for the, in Michel’s words, “nasty, odd, jerky, and delusional … obsessive weirdos.”

I don’t want these people in my real life, but I can’t get enough of them in my fiction. I know some readers say that want characters they like and can root for, but my rooting interest is for anyone odd and interesting.

Michel names some common examples of the type, the narrators of Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Bernhard (among others), and to keep the ball rolling, I’m going to add some of my favorite weirdo narrators.

Korede, the narrator of Oyinkan Braithwaite’s “My Sister, the Serial Killer,” is a highly competent and caring nurse with a side gig of cleaning up after her sister Ayoola after Ayoola kills yet another boyfriend. Why does Korede do this? What will happen when Ayoola starts dating the doctor Korede is in love with? Should we be afraid of Korede or rooting for her? Getting answers to these questions is only one of the pleasures of the novel.

The conceit of Steven Millhauser’s “Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright” is a little convoluted, but once you fall under its spell, it makes total sense. Jeffrey Cartwright is writing a biography of his next-door neighbor, the great writer Edwin Mullhouse, who has died at 11 years old. Parodying the literary biography and self-importance of critics by putting it in the hands of a child writing about another child, in Cartwright, Millhauser channels an obsessive burgeoning egomaniac, certain he has a unique insight into art and literature. I’ve recommended this book to dozens of readers and everyone who reads it says they’ve never seen anything else like it.

Elliot Weiner, the narrator and protagonist of “My Search for Warren Harding” by Robert Plunket is a despicable person, a bigot, a (closeted) homophobe, a cheat and truly an idiot. Yet as you follow his quest to get his hands on some Warren Harding arcana supposedly in the possession of Harding’s mistress living in 1980s Hollywood, you will spend a good portion of your time both laughing at and with him.

Nicholson Baker seems to specialize in oddball narrators including in novels like “The Mezzanine” and “Vox,” but his most challenging protagonist is Arno Arno Shrine from “The Fermata,” a man who realizes he can stop time and uses his ability to become an undetectable voyeur. Some critics found the book literally repulsive on its release in 1994. I can’t even say that I enjoyed this book, but given that I can recall its effect on me 30 years after I first read it, it would be a mistake to deny its power.

Patricia Highsmith’s all-time classic creation Tom Ripley, first introduced in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a bad person — a con artist, murderer and sociopath. Highsmith’s genius is in getting us to start to root for Ripley’s success as he tries to avoid being brought down by his bad acts. Through the charms of Ripley, Highsmith turns morality upside down, making the reader feel complicit in these bad acts. It’s a thrilling reading experience.

Please, reader beware on all of these books! They are not for everyone. They may not even be a good fit for most people, but for me, one of the wonderful things about books is that we can spend quality time with any freak, weirdo, misanthrope or malcontent and then close the page.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “Holly” by Stephen King

2. “Blackouts” by Justin Torres

3. “The Berry Pickers” by Amanda Peters

4. “The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina” by Zoraida Córdova

5. “Hello, Molly!” by Molly Shannon

— William G., Chicago

I avoided this book because it was chosen by a popular book club and I try to spend my time on titles that others may not notice, but once it also became a National Book Award finalist, I had to check it out and in doing so, was blown away: “Chain-Gang All-Stars” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

1. “Antarctic Navigation” by Elizabeth Arthur

2. “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell

3. “News of the World” by Paulette Jiles

4. “Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine” by Stanley Crawford

5. “Sweet Thursday” by John Steinbeck

— Blair, Tucson, Arizona

Patrick deWitt’s “The Sisters Brothers” has the historical setting, wit and adventure that I think is in Blair’s wheelhouse.

1. “The Village Healer’s Book of Cures” by Jennifer Sherman Roberts

2. “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann

3. “House of Earth” by Woody Guthrie

4. “Cinderella’s Dress” by Shonna Slayton

5. “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith

— Cindy M., Chicago

I did not know that Woody Guthrie had written a novel. You learn something new every day. For Cindy, I’m recommending a book by someone who shares some of the spirit of Guthrie, Wendell Berry, and his novel, “Nathan Coulter.”

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