I've often talked about how, during the Tournament of Books, I've come across a new-to-me author that's a revelation and a find. But I've realized recently that there's another annual event tied to the ToB, at least for me: discovering a book that don't just not enjoy, but actively detest. This year's edition is The Invaders.
The Invaders is the story of an upscale enclave on the Atlantic ocean called Little Neck Cove, where the people have been there for years, have lots of money, have lots of rich-people problems, have lots of dysfunction due to said rich-people problems. The story is told from two points of view: Cheryl, the forty-something second wife of Jeffrey, and Teddy, Jeffrey's son from his first marriage. Cheryl is realizing that the community will never accept her and she'll always be an outsider; even worse, as her youth goes, so does her husband's attraction to her. Teddy is a screw-up of the finest order, having just been kicked out of his elite college and now back home to sponge off Dear Old Dad and steal drugs from his friends' parents.
Right there--how many cliches can you count? Lots? Yup.
Now let's add in some more. The residents of this jolly community, who all golf and play tennis and eat dinner at the club together, become outraged at the number of ethnic (mostly Mexican) people who are popping up on their beaches, wanting to fish and picnic. Oh, hey, wait a minute--are we going to have an interesting racial discussion??? Nah. This is just a contrivance to set the rest of the plot in motion, namely, that the residents get all up in arms and build a wall (Yes! They build a wall!) and start accusing each other of trespassing.
In the meantime, Cheryl flops about like a beached fish, moaning and wailing her poor lot in life, thinking about her dysfunctional childhood. Seriously--this woman does nothing. NOTHING. She mopes. Wonders what her husband is thinking. Feels bad that the other ladies in the community don't invite her to things, although given how poorly drawn those women are, I'm not really sure why she cares.
Then she has an encounter with another disaffected youth from the community. I'm going into spoiler-land here, because I found this so utterly outrageous. If you don't want a spoiler, stop reading.
Cheryl is out walking on a nature trail by herself when this young man accosts her and nearly rapes her. She fights back and hits him hard in the face with a stone, then escapes. Later, his family calls the police and accuses the itinerant Mexicans of attacking their son.
That's not what outraged me. As atrocious as that is, I could certainly see that happening.
No--Cheryl eventually calls Stephen and invites him into her bed.
And then she has him do something else that nearly had me throwing the book across the room, except it came from the library, and I wouldn't do that to someone else's book.
It's not a good sign when, upon finding out that a hurricane is on the way, I started cheering for the hurricane to take out the entire community.
I think part of what makes me so mad is the lost opportunity here. We've already got plenty of literature around selfish rich people. Why not make it interesting and really explore them, rather than resort to tired old tropes? The community I live in is fairly affluent, not as much as the one in the book, but close. Are there some awful people here? Sure. But there are some wonderful people too. And the pathology behind the awful people would make interesting reading.
For me, the baseline for unlikable characters is Olive Kitteredge. Truly, there was a character that I would not want to live next door to, and yet, by the time I finished the book, I really cared about her and understood why she was so difficult and unlikable. Don't just give me unlikable characters. Make me understand how they got that way.