Troubled Characters: When Fiction Imitates Reality

by Keith Anderson

Once depression had taken a firm grip around my life, I spent a couple of years house bound with the exception of my trek out for weekly therapy. In time, I regained some self-confidence and became interested in venturing out into the world. Small steps though.

My psychologist would often set certain goals for me to achieve each week. Sometimes it was something simple, such as: try to watch a movie. Another suggestion – to meditate. I attended an early Saturday morning class to learn. My meds made me sleepy, so through the class, I found myself not meditating but sleeping. I did improve in time!

In my quest for recovery, I would learn to set my own goals. One place that was always a source of comfort and enjoyment was the bookstore. Not being able to drive very often, I made a deal with my niece. If she would drive us to the bookstore, I would buy the books we each wanted.

Though an avid reader, fiction had never been my choice in the past. I read autobiographies and books on the arts and sciences. But at this uncharted time in my life, perhaps fiction could provide some new stories – a place to escape. It took a few choices, some good, some not, to find my niche.

One day in November of 2005, I picked up Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. I had heard of neither the book nor the author. It was just a random choice of placement on the bookshelf and kismet.

It’s a short book, just 226 pages. But at that time, it was daunting. My ability to focus for any length of time was weak.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I read Knots and Crosses cover to cover. I found it compelling, intense, but with something of an additional interest. It took some time to recognize what this appeal was.

I was beginning to learn that authors wrote a series of books based around the same characters and settings. I know the rest of the world knew this from age 16! Not me!

I soon started another book by Mr. Rankin. To learn more about the series, I checked his website. There were 10 more books at that time in this series. It was almost the New Year, so I set this as a goal for the year – to read the complete series.

After reading a few of the books, I was beginning to appreciate and even understand the main character, John Rebus, a detective with the Lothian and Borders Police in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Rebus had a mental breakdown following his military service in Northern Ireland and while undergoing Special Forces training. He then joins the Police Department. His personal relationships are challenging and not long lasting. He is solitary; focused on his work; loves his books and music; and he hides from the world by listening to album after album. So…yes, I “get” Rebus. Too well!

Now, don’t get me wrong, Rebus gave me no insight into my own difficult and troubled life back then. It is fiction after all. But the pages brought to light a certain note of appreciation. The random series that I chose to read had a main character that I related to rather well. Rebus’ life hit close to home.

I did accomplish my goal. By November of that year, I had read all the Rankin books that had been published at that time. I learned to focus better while reading. But the most important part – I truly enjoyed reading them! Enjoyment was a huge step for me at the time.

Now, I can’t imagine not having a book or two with me. I have found other books with troubled characters. We are everywhere, some fictional, but more often, real!

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