We had a funeral to attend a fortnight ago. In New York. Airplane — $875 per ticket. Driving — $170 round trip. I brought five books and got to three. The political thriller thrilled. The memoir inspired. And the contemporary women’s novel entertained until the last chapter. Major tick-off.
Some of us like our fictional just-like-real-life-but-better endings tied up gift box neat. Others like them raw and painful. Yours truly goes for endings that are good enough. It’s good enough to close the book thinking Ahhhh. She got most of what she wanted, leaving the rest open for possibility. It’s good enough to close the book and think, Awwww, the bad guy got his but our hero got nicked or injured, or emotionallly damaged, in the process. A good enough ending leaves the reader with something to chew over. The ending of the above-mentioned novel was all meringue. Way too sweet and nothing to chew over.
Truth be told I did like the book. It passed the miles. I enjoyed following the characters down their vastly unanticipated paths. I loved this one’s octogenarian feistiness and that one’s self-induced muddle of a life. Most of the ending satisfied. The land hungry developer didn’t get the ten-acre beach front Nantucket estate; the gay architect who loved historic renovations did. The heartbroken divorcee whose husband had an affair, found the love of her life. The jeweler who got the boss’ wife preggers found himself off the hook when the period arrived in the nick of time leaving him free for the broken-hearted divorcee. It could happen. It’s fiction. Just like real life but better.
But here’s where the fiction fell apart on me. The woman whose husband left her to play for the other team begins to write a memoir. And before the year is out she lands three short stories in the NYTimes. (Which takes serialized novels. In the Magazine section.) She sends out a book proposal for her memoir and in less time than it took for Jonathan Safran Foer to write Everything is Illuminated she lands an agent. And not just any agent. A top flight agent. And if that’s not enough her father, who kept big time secrets from her, comes clean. And then dies, leaving her a nice little nest egg. Filled with more than enough eggs to buy a sweet cottage with a water view of Nantucket Sound. Or was it the Atlantic? My Nantucket geography is thin.
Am I writing with ink pressed from sour grapes? I’ll cop to a drop or two. For me, fiction’s “like real life but better” definition doesn’t mean every dream comes true. But many do, often in ways unexpected. “Like real life but better” means fictional struggles are deeper, quirkier, sharper edged, higher in their heights of achievement than are our day-to-day tussles with reality. Does doing real life “better” mean every last conflict neatly resolved? Or does it mean a rich, jaw dropping how-did-the-author-Do-that! kind of ending? The kind of ending that’s not meringue but caramel. Sweet. Chewy. And because it’s like real life but better, you don’t lose a filling.
PS When my novel finally finds its agent, its publisher and its place on your night stand and your you-gotta-read-this-novel-NOW! book list, I promise, it will leave you chewing long into the night. With all fillings intact.