October 22nd, 2008

abstract butterfly

on endings

During a recent burst of what seems this Fall to be an endless series of quick business trips, I read one of those forties novels. I like those novels written between 1910 and 1960 which feature a decent plot, good characters, a crackling story, and a bit of wit and erudition.

This one qualified, I suppose as "popular fiction", but stopped short, I believe, of the dreaded label "magazine fiction". I like "magazine fiction", by the way, when it has the word "Amazing", "Asimov" or "Astounding" on the cover, more than when it has "Yorker", "Granta" or "...the literary magazine of the University..." on the cover.

The novel I read was by Margery Sharp, who wrote dozens upon dozens of novels in a time when mid-list novelists could write dozens and dozens of novels without even keeping a weblog. She's most famous, I believe, for creating the "Rescuers" childrens' books, in which a mouse or two do amusing things to the delight of all.

I really enjoyed her novel "Cluny Brown", a witty bit of simple fiction about a young woman who does not "know her place" in the UK. Although the novel qualifies as "light, amusing reading" more than as "incisive character study", I found myself inwardly "cheering on" young Cluny Brown.

Then the ending chapter of the novel came on. I found that it turned out in just the way I did not want it to turn out. I will not describe it, for fear of spoiling the reading of some hypothetical google-user. Yet it rankled. It rankled not because it was implausible, for I find that life itself is usually more implausible than most novels. The ending fit very well in the context of the novel--it was clear when I'd read it that the whole novel pointed that way, from setting to even the character who served as Cluny's "foil".
The ending instead rankled because it rankled that what happened is not what I wanted to happen, and I rather liked Cluny Brown. I suspected I liked Cluny Brown more than Ms. Sharp did, and that I had her best interests more at heart.

Just before the flight back home, I realized that I had not read Raymond Chandler's final novel Playback. If you had asked me before Monday evening, I would have told you that I have read all the Raymond Chandler novels. Now I must go back and inventory my thoughts to see if this is true.

I read that many people are not as fond of Playback as of his other novels. I found it a congenial read, which told a tale of La Jolla/Del Mar in California which captured some things about that area even after all these years.

Yet here, too, the ending rankled. Here I was not unhappy with what happened to the protagonist. The ending just felt "tacked on". There was a perfectly workable plot thread that would have made a much more satisfying ending--but instead out of the blue a pat ending is phoned in.

I suppose the consternation of books is I am not sure which dissatisfies me more:
the ending in "Cluny Brown", which dissatisfied me because although it flowed naturally from the novel,
the story didn't turn out the way I wanted, or "Playback", in which things turned out fine for Phillip Marlowe, but the denouemont was entirely tacked on.
abstract butterfly

Words and Deeds

"Many of you have talked about the need to pay down our national debt. I listened, and I agree. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to act now, and I hope you will join me to pay down $2 trillion in debt during the next 10 years. At the end of those 10 years, we will have paid down all the debt that is available to retire. That is more debt, repaid more quickly than has ever been repaid by any nation at any time in history". ---President George W. Bush, Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress
on the State of the Union, February 27, 2001.

Collapse )