Saturday, June 4, 2011

Character Sketch: Xavier Moon

 An early character sketch from my novel-in-progress.  Xavier Moon is not the main character, but at this early juncture I imagine him playing an important role in the story.

Xavier was a kind of superhero – at least a superhero as far as Barr College was concerned. He was frighteningly intelligent, with just the right amount of discretion to keep him from dominating a conversation. He was soft spoken, but unafraid to use his vocabulary to its fullest. He clearly did every reading thoroughly, and took the time, moreover, to think carefully about the meaning and implications of the text, but was nevertheless frequently seen wandering the campus engaging with his classmates in his reserved, elitist way. That he seemed to rub no one the wrong way despite his air of superiority was perhaps his greatest gift: rare is the person who is manifestly great without inspiring the hatred – or at least the jealousy – of the masses.

That's not to say Xavier was entirely beloved. Having Mr. Moon in your class was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there's no question it would be excellent. On the other, that very excellence sometimes crushed the free-spirited atmosphere that the best conversations need in order to truly blossom. It's not that Xavier actively forced caution on his classmates, but rather than they took it up as a matter of course, as if they were more concerned with his judgment than with the actual evaluation of the grade-book-holding Tutors.

Xavier's fashion sense was keen, if a bit anachronistic. Indeed, it was sometimes said about him that he would be less surprising among 19th century noblemen than among his actual peers. Even so, there was no question that Xavier “pulled it off,” that his appearance, if anything, made everyone else look anachronistic. He was dressed for the occasion, while they had mistaken Barr as a college, and not the meeting of the aristocracy it was.

One was hard pressed to pin down Xavier Moon's beliefs, despite his striking and self-assured demeanor. He was a professed atheist, but nevertheless was deeply interested in religious texts of all kinds. He clearly had an empirical bent, favoring modern science over the “nonsense of the ancients,” as he called it, and yet he himself would admit that Laboratory was his worst class. When asked about his political views, Xavier was – like so many Barr students – noncommittal. In short, despite being very much in the public eye, very much a topic of discussion when not present, and very much an object of admiration among both the young men and young women of the campus, Xavier remained very much an enigma.

What the other students failed to realize, and this was because Xavier kept it to himself, was that Xavier was as much an enigma to himself as to his classmates. His archaic dress was something he had begun and cultivated as teenage rebellion, which now he thought, if not silly, at least unnecessary. But it had become so much a part of the way other people understood him that he dared not change it. His intellect, as he was the first to acknowledge, was indeed formidable, but his knowledge of things useful was sparse, and he felt this lack keenly when he would try to, for example, troubleshoot a computer problem or mend a broken dresser handle.

Above all, Xavier was mystified by his interactions with other people. His cynicism and sarcasm – which often accompany young intelligence – did not seem to deter almost universal admiration. Xavier, however, did not know how to cope with being beloved at Barr. Throughout his life in middle and high school he had been reviled and teased. His attire was, amongst the brutes of his previous schools, mocked. His intelligence and, more to the point, his propensity for earning high marks without appearing to try aggravated his classmates and even frustrated his teachers.

Having a kind of natural emotional reservedness, Xavier's experiences heretofore in school had helped him to develop a calm introversion, an attachment to older and more sophisticated friends, and an ironical and wry sense of humor regarding the immaturity – in both action and thought – of others his age. The underpinnings of that attitude were shaken at Barr – at least by some of the students – but the expression of it remained very much intact, as Xavier honestly did not know how to change it, or even if it was worth changing. His fame, then, was a kind of strange accident, his excellence not quite a full-blown ruse, but rather an accidental illusion of fortuitous brilliance. Like light passing through a prism to reveal its component colors, Xavier's latent virtues were brought out by the particular circumstances of his place and time.

So Xavier Moon rode the wave of his fame at Barr not without a sense of irony, for he knew himself well enough to see that, while he perhaps was excellent in certain ways, it was precisely his greatest weakness – his inability to blend in and be “just another student” – that was most responsible for his gleaming reputation.

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