It's a fact of life and also literature: just because you know the right thing to do doesn't mean you'll actually do it. In my latest novel, The Never Never Sisters [NAL Trade, $15.00], marriage counselor Paige Reinhardt has a lovely office with a comfy chair in which she sits and doles out advice on how to reconnect with your spouse with honesty and respect. When Paige catches her own husband in a lie, her first instinct is to ignore it, and her second is to explain it away, but eventually, as inconsistencies in his stories mount, she must place a tentative foot off the soapbox and onto the pavement with the rest of us.
In writing Paige, I was inspired by those who came before -- the famously frustrating, heart-breaking and hilarious role models who have been, at points in their own stories, as prone to dish out wisdom as they are unable to take it in. Their reasons have varied -- delusion, optimism, an exceptionally thick skull -- and they may make us want to jump into the pages and shake their shoulders but they all have this in common: the more they bumble, the more we care.
Hamlet, from Shakespeare's Hamlet
There's been much discussion of the reason for his deliberation (sane man in insane world, coward, caught in loop of paralysis, massive Oedipal complex) but there's a massive delay between Hamlet's resolve to avenge his father's death and any action. Alas, his hemming and hawing results in a seriously increased body count, as well as a thoughtful and profound work of art.
Bridget Jones, from Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary
She's delightful, adorable and, on a theoretical level, appreciates that she deserves to be loved "just as she is." Because she can't quite reconcile that theory with her day-to-day decisions, her attempt to find happiness is riddled with the hilariously horrible: Daniel Cleaver, inappropriate costume party attire, inappropriate dinner party fare, and, of course, a tardiness in recognizing Mark Darcy to be the perfect partner he is.
Lily Bart from Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth
She's understandably torn between two ideals: love or social standing--indicating that she knows a choice is necessary. And yet she tragically fails to choose, causing us to clutch our hearts, reach for the tissues and perhaps for Bridget Jones, which allows us to frolic in a kinder universe with less cruel penalties.
Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen's Emma
Well-intentioned, handsome and clever, Emma smugly manipulates the romantic lives of her friends while insisting on remaining single herself. Oh, what social entanglements and awkwardness might have been avoided if she'd focused on her own capacity for passion (and a socially advantageous match!) rather than Harriet Smith, Frank Churchill, et al. (But what a sadly efficient read that would have been.)
Charlie Brown and Lucy from Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts
He doesn't trust her--she's lied before--but each and every time Charlie Brown's hopefulness reigns supreme and each and every time, Lucy's football gag succeeds. Lucy deserves inclusion on the list for her "Doctor is In" advice. The advice is often sound in a reductive kind of way--and at five cents, it is very cost-efficient--but you know she's not really taking it herself. For example, "snap out of it"? Oh, please. We've seen you perch on the other end of Schroeder's piano for years now, girl.
Paige Reinhardt from Alison Heller's The Never Never Sisters
She's got theories and rules about how best to understand where your spouse is coming from (listening is a choice, after all) but it turns out, the so-called expert has been missing clues in her own life for years, and not just about her husband--she's made assumptions about her mother, too (and her estranged sister and her father). Grab a big handful of the candy from that jar in your office, Paige, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.