I may have accidentally subverted the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in RIP vol. 1: Choices After Death.
It wasn’t a goal. I wasn’t even aware of the term until just last week after I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s (yeah, I know I shouldn’t like it, and yet…I do) and came across an article criticizing Audrey Hepburn’s character as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (though others criticize that criticism, naturally).
Film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term not long ago. 2007 doesn’t feel like all that long ago, anyway. He defined such a character as one who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
Rip starts out as a brooding young guy who needs to be yanked out of his funk, and two young women help him mature. The more manic one happens to be the less alive one.
Serissa serves as Rip’s “angel” guide and steers him to where he’s needed. But she’s also a recently deceased, sociable young woman who misses life and interacting with the living. Rip is the only solid entity she’s ever encountered in her afterlife, the only living person who can even acknowledge her.
In this world, angels are merely flawed people working their way out of purgatory and trying to avoid an eternal sentence in Hell. While Rip fears becoming separated from the world, Serissa already is. She’s a fun ghost, and her colorful personality contrasts with Rip’s more subdued nature. However lively she seems, she’s always just hanging on by a thread. After all, there’s no proof there actually is a Heaven, and when you’re an intangible ghost, it’s hard to hold on to anything.
So yes, Serissa is a vibrant ghost who fits several criteria of the trope: attractive, quirky, perhaps a bit manic, and certainly beneficial to the male hero’s outlook on life.
When she first appears, some readers might expect her to play along with the rest of the trope..but that’s not her way. It was when she was alive. She was a wild and crazy “high on life” young woman who easily attracted the attention of men, and she basically lost herself in meaningless flings and partying. She failed to become her own person.
And now she’s dead, so staying “high on life” becomes a mite harder. Really, her quirkiness stems from the fact that she’s slowly going bonkers but trying not to. She’s working very hard — she thinks — to reach Heaven, but she has no proof her efforts are going to pay off into anything worthwhile. She’s suffering in isolation; for all she knows, it’s for nothing.
I also make it clear in the first novelette that Serissa and Rip have NO romantic attraction. Given that Rip’s the only guy she can touch, going that route would’ve been creepy.
Serissa’s not looking for any romantic entanglements. She’s just trying to keep herself together and redeem herself. Her partnership with Rip is mutually beneficial. Each becomes the friend the other desperately needs.
Another hallmark of Manic Pixie Dream Girls is that they have no internal lives of their own — it’s all about the guy. No, RIP is about both of them. I consider Serissa a lead in this series, not a supporting player. It’s as much about her as it is about Rip.
At first glance, Serissa might look like yet another Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She was one in her backstory, and it didn’t turn out well. As you get to know her in the book, however, you’ll find she has a life of her own…
…aside from being dead, of course.
RIP vol. 1: Choices After Death is now available.