All’s Well That Ends….Perfect?

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.

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8 thoughts on “All’s Well That Ends….Perfect?

  1. Cindy L

    I love how you describe fiction as “like real life, but better.” That’s how it should be to me, too. I go through periods where I just can’t find novels that appeal to me, so I lean heavily on memoir or biography. Truth really IS stranger than fiction, a lot of the time…. But when I do find good novels, they echo in me for a long time, and I treasure them.

    I believe you will find an agent … or an agent will find you!

  2. Only the Half of It

    I wish I could plow through three books that fast. Endings are always challenging. We are so used to happy endings I often find myself applauding stories, however horrible, like No Country for Old Men, if only for their daring. But usually, a happy ending is what we crave.
    I like to think of fiction as sharing emotional truths.

  3. debra darvick

    Wish I could claim the “fiction is like real life but better”
    analogy. I read it a long time ago and either didn’t know or didn’t write down its source. But it’s one that works for me, too.

  4. emma and gabi

    hi mom! Sitting at school reading your blog. Gabi will update you on Nantucket geography if you like. Was that an elin hildebrand novel you were reading? Love, emma

  5. Debra

    Nope. Doesn’t matter, does it? Author is doing quite well, my disaffection aside. Haven’t read any others, but would give her one more shot.

  6. Pam

    You said it, Debra, and I am with you all the way. I’ve had enough of the novels that make me say, “GIVE ME A BREAK! No way this can happen.” The only books that have stayed with me, that have been more than a bon-bon, are those where challenges are sometimes overwhelming, victory is hard won, and happiness is actually something that can happen to me–tomorrow, or today.
    No more fairy tales for me, thanks.

  7. cindy

    The novel with writer who finds fame too fast would have bugged me, too. I have heard stories of writers whose book is contracted on their first query, but those are exceptions. And the author’s obvious cluelessness about the book biz would have irked me over the edge.

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