I met “Harry Clarke” last week. He’s the central character in an Off-Broadway play. The character is one of those compelling and intriguing personalities that draw the reader/viewer down a rabbit hole and away from conventional ethics and morality.
Harry was not as overt as Patricia Highsmith’s “Talented Mr. Ripley;” doesn’t rack up a body count of Jeff Lindsay’s serial killer, Dexter; isn’t as unreliable as Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert (‘Lolita’); nor does he create a reign of terror like any number of fictional super villains. But, he does engender a special brand of havoc, shattering a few lives as he rises to the top just when he is destined to sink to the bottom of the barrel.
Harry is about self-invention, recreation, and taking chances. It’s also about discovering an alternative self—one that is bold, brash, brave, and not entirely honest. Harry is the narrator’s true self. He’s lies, cheats, manipulates the feelings of other people with abandon, while the conventional self of this narrator is a sad sack on the losing end nearly every encounter in his life.
Harry LIES! He creates outrageous fictions on the fly and they roll off his tongue. He is seductive and sometimes very silly. He plays games and when he is at risk of being caught, he doubles down.
The charming liar holds a special place in fiction—think ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’—but Harry is different because he amazes himself with each crazy lie, astounded that he has not been caught and marveling at his own excesses. I adored him, while knowing that in real life I dislike self-serving liars.
A while back, I felt like I was “collecting” amoral movies—‘A Shock to the System’ with Michael Caine; ‘Red Rock West’ with Nicholas Cage; ‘Heathers’ with Winona Ryder; ‘Jinxed’ with Bette Midler; and many more. It’s not that I don’t admire and enjoy people who do good, it’s more that I appreciate the trajectory of characters that create chaos “accidentally on purpose” falling through life like a game of all shoots and no ladders.
Writing mystery fiction means delving into a dark, self-serving side of some characters, so I appreciate it when I experience a disreputable creation with the depth and nuance of a self-creating Harry. He was written/created by the actor/writer/singer/songwriter David Cale and brought to life by the fabulous actor Billy Crudup. I hope this turns up in a video format somewhere down the line so more people can meet Harry and be enchanted, seduced, betrayed, and tickled as I was… In the meantime, I’m sending friends to the theater.