I remember when I was reading Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee earlier this summer, I thought to myself: I hate this protagonist. I hate this protagonist. I hate this protagonist.
I thought it would be like The Catcher in the Rye, where I hated the protagonist on my first read only to realize a couple years later that Holden Caufield was really espousing some universal themes I found profoundly relatable later on in life. With Casey Han in Free Food for Millionaires, she was supposed to be relatable since we are both young Asian Americans working in finance, but I found everything about her existence just profoundly annoying. I’m still waiting for the day when I realize that she had a point to her life after all. At the moment, I don’t sympathize with her at all — for her infidelity, for her inability to ask for her help, at her complete lack of will to take responsibility in her own life.
Somewhere along the line, I thought to myself: Maybe I should write some autofiction with a profoundly unrelatable protagonist. I’m sure most people wouldn’t give a shit about my life.
I was thinking how we truly are the narrators of our own story. We tell stories in our point of view, and it is supposedly justified because we tell it so. There isn’t such thing as perspective when engaging with our life life because we can only have access to one narrative. Even our attempt in viewing ourselves through another set of eyes is merely a perception based on our own life. We go into other people’s lives, but we continue to act as we have in our own life. Our actions in this regard are still constricted to our own experiences.
I started reading In the Existentialist Cafe today, and I got to say I found Sarah Bakewell as a narrator to be quite humorous. Her quips are quite on point. I personally appreciate her writing style. It digests a the most pretentious set of topics in the world — philosophy — and makes it digestible to people who don’t want to pour 8 years of their lives reconciling all of Heidegger’s contradictions later on in his life with his early works. God, Heidegger really needs to figure his shit out. It has the tone of Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today, which honestly is probably one of the most descriptive books about living when at the time I read it. Where are the Melissa Broder’s of the world to narrate life? Instead I’m stuck with Casey fucking Han for however long it took me to finish Free Food for Millionaires.
Personally, I’ve been shitposting for so long in my life, I don’t even think I could act genuinely anymore. Don’t blame me; blame the internet. Etched in every sentence is a tinge of sarcasm, and I don’t think I am capable of writing without some hint of irony or cynicism. On that note, now that I have finished my English major, I don’t even think I am capable of reading literature that is not oozing with sarcasm. It amazes me how rare sarcasm is in some older writing. I remember throughout the entirety of reading Jane Eyre, I kept on thinking: Wow, I can’t believe this girl takes herself seriously. It’s hard nowadays to take your emotions seriously because there are so many levels of irony and references laced with any experience. There is so much meme value in our own experiences that all of my experiences correspond to a specific meme and can be categorized as such. Jane Eyre is just so… extra. Of course, Jane Eyre seeps into the Anglican cultural consciousness, but that didn’t stop the drama to be any less over-the-top. Maybe that’s why I liked Becky so much from Vanity Fair. She was just so… cynical. She was a 21st century figure crashing into a 18th century story. She had a good grasp over her own emotions, and she played with the other characters like dolls. She was an evil puppet master pulling strings in a world that had not yet discovered cynicism. Poor Amelia, who had the misfortune of befriending Becky. Amelia was as baby who had not discovered how the world works. She had not discovered irony yet. The world is pre-ironic. What a world that would be.