Whenever crafting a novel, character development must be at the forefront of the authors mind, as believable or relatable characters help the reader become involved in the story. In the novel, The Underbelly, author Gary Phillips does a great job at creating a very real and very relevant Magrady. As a Vietnam vet, the protagonist is searching for a friend and for answers, all the while dealing with his own sobriety, his damage from the war, and his accelerating age. I like how he author shows that Magrady does have some skills left over from his youth, albeit a little slower, but still present. At one point in the story, he gets in an altercation with Boo Boo and Elmore Jinks. His muscle memory from the days of judo and his patience were able to get the upper hand on the overconfident thugs in the beginning, but then their youth allowed them to retaliate faster than Magrady could follow up (28). When compared to other vets that are portrayed in books or film, this scene was much more believable. Rambo, for instance, would have quickly dominated the two assailants and shortly after taken over the town.
With worries of where to sleep or where Floyd was, Phillips still writes quick blurbs about Magrady fretting over hair loss (43) or blushing when being kissed by the much younger Janis (40). This realism adds depth to the character and helps readers relate. At the very end when Magrady visits his son, his lifelong experience and knowledge of his children helps identify Luke as Kang Fu, showing not only the fatherly side of the character, but adding up the pieces like any parent would be able to do. By Gary Phillips creating a believable protagonist, the story comes to life in a very real way, unlike other heroes such as Rambo, who brings lots of plausibility to the movie, which differs greatly from the novel, but is far from probable. Character development is the key to creating a story with depth that a reader wants to invest in, unlike Spears of God, by Howard V. Hendrix, which has too many characters to track and not enough time and details for us to get to know.