by J.M. Coetzee
The cool thing about David is that, even though he's not the narrator of the novel per se, we still get to read his thoughts the whole time. David's our protagonist, and sure he makes us groan, but we just spend so much time in his head, watching him watch himself in decline, that we can't help but sort of feel for the guy. When we first meet David, things are kind of humdrum, but they're pretty much as good as they're going to get. He feels OK in general, but by that we mean he regards his life the way you regard the ham and cheese sandwich on white bread that your mom backed for your lunch today: it's fine, but it's not inspiring or exciting, and you would gladly trade it for something more flavorful. His job has him in a funk, his sex life is sort of lukewarm (and he pays for "eh" sex at that…), he's not getting any younger, and he's not feeling too inspired professionally or personally.
Cue Melanie. When Melanie enters the picture, things seem to perk up. We even see David feeling young again; he's been out of the game for a long time, and he's not sure as to what's the best way to make the girl swoon. Of course, we see the end coming before David does. While he's lost in post-coital bliss, we see her frowning, looking away, and making excuses not to see him. Sure, we're confused when she comes over to his place unannounced, too, but it seems like David lets his passion get the best of him to the extent that he doesn't see things falling apart until it's too late. We haven't been on the dating market nearly as long as he has, but we could definitely offer him a few pointers, especially when we see his mind in a frenzy trying to figure out how to get Melanie's attention – even while he's lecturing an entire class!
While Melanie brings out the young and vulnerable side of David (including some adolescent insecurities), his colleagues bring out his cocky side. Why does he have to act so smug during his hearing, we want to ask? Why doesn't he suck it up and just say he's sorry? David's caught in a bind here – he doesn't want to admit to something he doesn't actually feel, which is understandable in a way; admitting you did something wrong can make you feel undignified. But unluckily for David, refusing to admit he's wrong slaps him with a different kind of disgrace altogether: he basically loses everything he's worked for. We're not advocating lying, but do you think that insisting to tell the truth was worth it?
So then we go from David in the city to David in the country. Some of the same things plague him as before: he worries about getting older and he continues to daydream about Melanie and her tight little body. But other things start to creep into his mind: what in the world is he doing out in the country? Who are these people? Why are they so poorly dressed? Why do they set their sights so low?
These problems, of course, are soon overshadowed by much bigger issues after he and Lucy are attacked. How can he talk to her about her rape? How can he look at himself the same way knowing he may have put Melanie through what Lucy went through? Was he a good enough father to Lucy, or will he enter old age having let her down?
By the end of the novel, David puts himself into a real gloom (we're guessing spending all that time helping to put dogs to sleep isn't doing him a whole lot of good emotionally, either – though it does give him a sense of purpose). In the end, David's a guy who tries his best, but he also makes a lot of mistakes along the way. He's stubborn, he's strong-headed, and he sees his importance waning. Like we said, as much as we dislike him sometimes, we've got to feel for him.