One of the first things to capture me in reading Nathan Lowell’s novel Quarter Share was the development of the main character and his sidekick, Ishmael and Pip. I found myself identifying with Ishmael’s forward thinking, boundary breaking, paradigm shakeup attitude and laser like focus but I also identified with Pip’s just-getting-by lifestyle and how he seems to have given up on his ambitions till he meets his Ishmael. The story is never that simple in great novels and the more I learned about Pip, the more complicated he became.
He is first major memorable moment is as a sidekick, nay-saying Ishmael’s world-shaking coffee-making exploits. As Ishmael completely redoes the entire way the ship does coffee, his reaction is a mix of excitement (dude you’re making waves but this might be awesome) and fear (dude you might be making me irrelevant). He was the veteran coworker both impressed with and frightened by a new coworker with exciting ideas to improve how things get done.
The more we learn about Pip’s deferred hopes and dreams, the more he appears to be a foil for Ishmael- fascinated by Ishmael’s insights and out of the box ideas for making a way in the world but scared to break the safe status quo that he has created for himself aboard their ship, the Lois McKendrick, especially given his not so happy history on other ships.
But the entire time there is another side to Pip. He’s our guide in to the world of trading, mercantilism, and a number of the basics of Ishmael’s new life aboard the Lois. Sometimes he’s the wise guide, but sometimes he is the trickster who purposefully and good naturedly messes with Ishmael.
By the point in the story I am at, he almost functions as a second protagonist. If Quarter Share is the saga of trying to find a way in the universe, then Pip shares the same quest as Ishmael. However, Pip seems to be ashamed of his ambitions, hiding from the crew his side trading gig, even though it turns out that most of the crew of the Lois is also engaged in the same activity. Pip’s ongoing struggles between laying low and pursuing ambition create a dramatic tension. Unlike Ishmael, who has little to lose by risking trying new things, Pip has an established “place” on the Lois that could be jeopardized by trying and failing or making waves.
By halfway through the book, both Pip and Ishmael are learning surprising and disorienting things about how things work- both in the deep dark and on the Lois. Sometimes their quests intersect- like when they team up to sell belts. Sometimes they don’t- when Pip tries to walk around alone a strange space station carrying tons of cash and hijinks ensue.
I had the opportunity to have a brief Twitter conversation with the author before writing this to get his take on Pip. This conversation is a major reason I’m referring to the ship as “the Lois” instead of “the McKendrick.” His first response was to caution me about everything we learn about pip since it is filtered through our narrator Ishmael. Also he inadvertently titled this post by cryptically saying, “Pip lies.”
Lowell sees Pip as a window to the world outside the world, something I agree with in a way. Pip gives our introduction to other ships (mercantile family ships, for example) and is a significant part of getting Ishmael off-ship when the Lois is in port, though I keep feeling we also have the other characters, especially the couple of “not-quite-potential-love-interests” that keep popping up, one of which by where I am in the story has made Ishmael her boy toy.
Among the other roles Lowell identifies Pip playing include “comic relief and combination sidekick and sounding board.” Pip’s presence certainly provides humor and drama to scenes that otherwise might have been very static if we only had Ishmael thinking to himself or trying to learn how to put on a space suit. He and Ishmael make great conversation partners as, even though they rarely directly disagree, they have very interesting dialogue as they leap frog off of each others ideas as they make their increasingly grandiose plans.
Pip begins as the innocuous doubting sidekick and serves a number of roles in the story. Despite the number of differences between Pip and Ishmael, what I take away from Pip as I read this book is not dissimilar from what I take away from Ishmael.
Pip is the protagonist in his own story, much as Ishmael is the protagonist in his, but truly everyone is the hero in their own story and gets to make the choice to dare like Pip and Ishmael both do or to be content.
Like Pip, despite not being a hero in a novel, we are all the protagonist in our lives and able to make decisions that lead us both farther from and closer to our dreams- whether that is by thinking outside the box and living by your own paradigms as Ishmael does or analyzing and taking advantage of existing systems as Pip does or simply putting in a good day’s work and relaxing with your friends as Cookie does.
As I writer, I take away from Pip the ability to start with the stereotypical “sidekick goofball” and turn the character into a fully fleshed out character with their own needs and drives that does not rely on the actions of the main character. As a reader, I find Pip inspiring.
Ishmael may be an exceptional person, but the Pip is reminds us that we are all exceptional people and at any moment have the power to pursue the lives we want. Just be cautious if he asks you to loan him money.
For future consideration: The role of the Lois and her crew in fostering the development of these two people.