Advice To Fictional Characters On The Occasion Of My 31st Birthday


I recently turned 31. As a friend pointed out, I am now older than the Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway. This got me thinking: I’m probably older than a lot of other fictional characters, too. Fictional characters who could benefit from my advice. I’ve given them that advice below, along with a warnings of their potential futures if they ignore it.

Nick Carraway (30)

Leave West Egg right now. The age expectancy for your generation is around 60 (car crashes and shootings notwithstanding). This means you’ve reached life’s halfway point and your tagline is a toss-up between “Gatsby’s Neighbor,” and “Daisy Buchanan’s Cousin. ” Do you really want to spend the rest of your life social climbing in West Egg and cleaning up after the disasters your super-rich friends create for themselves? Pack your bags, sell your big, empty house, and leave while you still can. If you don’t, you’ll likely end up as the alcoholic narrator of one of Cheever’s sad tales of suburban ennui, at best.

Averted Future: Sad, drunk, narrating a John Cheever story

Holden Caulfield. (16)

Get tattoos immediately. Get a lot of tattoos. Right now you’re a punk sneering at the world, convinced that you know so much better than all the adults faking it around you. Man, have I ever been there. Listen: you’re absolutely right. The adult world is pretty much a sham. But you’ll eventually grow up. You’ll strike out on your own. Your money will run out, your debt will pile up. You’ll wake up one morning to find yourself a lot closer to 30 than 16. You’ll get married and have a kid (or stay single and get your girlfriend pregnant). Steady income and health insurance will start to sound pretty good, and when you land a 9-5 job you will feel lucky to have it. You will concede to the life of an average desk-jockey, just like the rest of us, and become one of the fakes you are always complaining about. But if you get tattooed now, before it’s too late, you will at least have “No Phony” across your knuckles to remind you that, at least once, you were so fucking cool.

Averted Future: Tattooless and ink-stained desk jockey, ala Updike’s Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom.

Franny (Early 20s)

Wow, do you ever need to dump your boyfriend. Crying, passing out, and retreating into constant prayer are all appropriate ways to responded to this guy, and I too would try each in turn if I was stuck with him for an afternoon. You’re both in college -this is when you are the most fun ever- and he’s been talking about his professor’s response to some paper he wrote for the last twenty minutes. It’s not going to get any better. Run, don’t walk, away. You are young, there’s still time. I know it’s the 50s and everything, but it’s not too late for you to turn into a strong female character (and I’ve got such great news about the 60s). But if you stay with this guy you will probably regress to become someone closer to the woman from “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Averted Future: Creeping around the room try to escape from a wallpaper pattern.

Zooey (12)

Hang in there, Kitty. Shit’s gonna to get weird. Things don’t generally go well for gifted, precocious youths once they hit puberty, and that’s basically your entire family. Find a bunker and hole up until you are at least twenty-six.

Averted Future: Character in a Wes Anderson movie.

Ignatius Riley (30)

Here’s what’s up: You are 30, overweight, and you live with your mother. You recently graduated with an employment-repelling advanced degree in English Literature and now you can only find work selling hot dogs and temping in pants factories. You hang out in bars, cultivate weird facial hair, and dress like an absolute lunatic. You fill the free time not dedicate to frantic masturbation by scribbling overly-wrought prose into notebooks and telling yourself you are a genius working on a redemptive piece of literature. Your love-life would be a joke if it wasn’t too sad to be funny. Reading all of this, I’ve become afraid that you are actually me. But at least I don’t still live with my mother. Move out and shave your mustache. Meet some normal people. Maybe go jogging once in a while. You’re a substance abuse problem away from being in a Sam Lipsyte novel, and can you really stand even more humiliation?

Averted Future: PhD in Creative Writing.

The Lisbon Sisters: Cecilia (13) Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), and Therese(17) (All deceased)

OK, things look pretty bad for you girls right now. You have all successfully committed suicide, for one thing. Your parents have sold your house and moved out of town. Your short lives are now conversation fodder for those who knew you to discuss at cocktail parties and analyze for clues like they are the Hardy Boys or something. But don’t give up: you have the potential to be such amazing ghosts. Start haunting immediately. The new family in your house is a great place to start. Your neighbors will make good targets, too. But save your strength for the boys who watched your strange suffering, grew obsessed with you, but never worked up the nerve to talk to you or offer help.  They thought their “job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate” you. Well, no. You deserved better, and don’t let them forget it.

Averted Future: Objects of a melancholic literary novel (instead of a righteous ghost story).

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image – MrJamesAckerley