While the Blackwells were great, I think best portrayed psychopath in recent fiction is from a novel called Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. The story takes place in Minnesota in the early 1960s and narrated by Reuben Land, an 11 year old who lives with his widowed father, older brother Davy, and younger sister Swede. When two violent intruders break into the Land’s house, Davy kills them and is charged with murder. During the trial, Davy escapes and the family takes off after him. The journey takes them through Minnesota and North Dakota, with the police hot on their trail. Unlike Koryta, Enger really hasn’t written an action thriller – although there are certainly elements of that in the story. This has a ballad-like feel to it, not unlike a cowboy tale. The writing is lyrical and mesmerizing. There is a description of a blizzard and the aftermath which is quite breathtakingly beautiful. But wait, what about the psychopath? Oh yea. When Reuben finds Davy, he meets up with the “family” with whom Davy has been hiding. The patriarch is “Jape Waltzer”, a low-key and seemingly friendly sort when introduced to Reuben. As the pages turn and the story progresses, the reader quickly learns that there is something a little scary about Jape – and then downright terrifying. I cannot describe Jape’s portrayal any more than that without disclosing too much. Suffice it to say, though, the character is chilling and utterly convincing. He is a menace who enjoys his impact on people – and that impact does not leave you. I found this guy to be an utterly convincing picture of psychopathy and his presence on the page elevates a tremendous sense of peril.
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray is one of my all-time favorite novels. The story is set in a Catholic High School for boys in Dublin – which serves as a boarding school for many of the students. One kid, Skippy, dies in the first few pages (this is not a spoiler, obviously, since it is also the title), and this 800 page book recounts the chain of events leading up to his death and then what happens afterward. What isn’t clear from the title and the description is that the novel is hilariously funny. The descriptions of teenage relationships and the dialogue between the kids are heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Then, of course, there are the teachers and the staff who play their own role in the account (the point of view is roughly equal across kids and adults). One character is Carl, a student in the school. He is the drug-dealing psychopath who is in love with the same girl as Skippy. The author does a remarkable job of making this kid both chilling and sympathetic. His inner turmoil and psychological pain is well portrayed – as is his callous and brutal demeanor to his fellow classmates. His is a terrific portrayal.
There are likely other great psychopaths in literature, past and present. These three came to mind very quickly, however, and I felt the urge to write about them. When I recall others, I will make a note and return to this topic if people are interested. I don’t know, from my perspective, you can’t get enough fictional psychopaths.