I am reading Laura Lippman‘s I’d Know You Anywhere and was surprised to encounter a new character being introduced about 170 pages in, a little less than halfway through the book. This new figure wasn’t ushered in by a character already established — I simply turned the page to a new chapter and started reading about a woman whose name I didn’t recognize, didn’t know anything about. Lippman organizes her chapters by alternating from past to present, 1985 in one chapter to the present (2010) in the next, so I wasn’t sure if we were then or now, or what.
I felt lost, disoriented, at first, because, at page 170, I had been sailing along, getting into a groove, having met everyone I thought there was to know, and suddenly I felt like I had been tossed into the water scrambling for a life vest. Sure, sometimes that can be exciting, but for some reason here it felt like an intrusion: Who is this person? What is she doing here in MY book? But after reading a page or so, I figured out who she was, and when she was, and the suspiciousness waned. What’s funny is that I was surprised at how quickly I accepted her, once I slipped her into my mental catalog of the book’s characters. But part of me questioned why the author hadn’t mentioned her before, because she could have. Would the book have read any differently?
The encounter made me wonder: Is it ever too late to introduce an entirely new character into a book or a story? Is there ever a point when the reader will not accept her or him with open arms?
What do you think?