Monday, May 28, 2012

Kat's Monday Maundering – Toys for the Reader’s Brain

Here's to you Kat! And Thank you.

First of all, no, I’m not Sia. Sia has kindly allowed me to hijack borrow her blog while she takes a well-deserved rest and enjoys the long weekend. With any luck, she’s sitting by a pool with an iced coffee (or other adult beverage!).

Today’s blog topic was prompted by reviews I read on a book I loved, by people kvetching remarking they were unhappy with what they viewed as an unresolved, ambiguous ending. To them, I want to say pffft have you never watched Gone With the Wind? Shane? Read pretty much any literary novels?

I remember seeing Gone With the Wind for the first time when I was 15, as part of a class assignment. Rhett delivers his lovely line and slams the door. Scarlett cries and says she’ll think about things tomorrow. Fade to black. Lights up. I remember standing and yelling “I sat through four hours of boring war scenes and two intermissions for this??? This non-ending?? This…this…” At that point I became pretty much incoherent.

Many years later I watched it again. And discovered that I loved the ending. I loved discussing and debating it with friends. Did Scarlett chase after Rhett? Chase after someone else? Learn her lesson and become a nicer person (pffft!) Margaret Mitchell didn’t spell it out for us because she trusted us, as readers, to be discerning enough to figure it out ourselves. She didn’t need to wrap a pretty bow around it and deliver it on a silver platter. When asked, Mitchell herself said she did not know and said, "For all I know, Rhett may have found someone else who was less difficult."

The movie Shane ends much the same. The hero kills the villain and saves the town, but is wounded in the process. He gets on his horse and rides away into the sunset. Does he die? Find a doctor? Go on to save some other town? Marry Miss Kitty (oops, wrong Western). The thing is, we don’t need to know. The ending is satisfying just as it is, and the discussion/debate around it is even more entertaining.

So long as an author ties up all the major plot points, vanquishes evil (at least temporarily), and has cemented a memorable protagonist in my mind, I’m satisfied. Does the hero live to fight another day? Does the heroine look toward the future—no matter what it may hold—as a changed (or not!) person? I’m good with that.

I look at ambiguous/open/temporarily resolved endings this way: Let’s say on Christmas morning, you are given two presents. The first is all tied up with silvery wrapping paper and tied up with a pretty bow. Inside you find a doll house—the walls are decorated, it’s filled with tiny furniture, and comes with a little doll family all ready to move in.

The other package isn’t nearly as pretty—it’s kind of lumpy and unwieldy and has sharp corners poking out. When you unwrap it, you discover a pile of Legos. OK, so you can make your own doll house with them. Or you could build a skyscraper. Or a rocket. Or a pirate ship. They can be just as entertaining as that pretty ready-to-go gift, but some assembly is required. You’ll need to think. You’ll need to use your imagination.

But Legos—that daunting pile-o-stuff—comes with the best thing of all: possibilities. They can become whatever you want.

And so it is with books that have those open, ambiguous endings. When I read books like that I thank the author for respecting my intelligence, for trusting that I will discern their meaning, and for gifting me with whatever possible ending I can imagine for the characters.


If you’re up for a “flying off into the sunset” kind of ending, one that manages to combine BOTH a wounded hero AND a woman trying to figure out the next step in her life, I highly recommend the newest thriller from Lisa Brackmann, Getaway. Lisa herself will be here to talk with you on Wednesday, but I love her work so much, I wanted to recommend it ahead of time!

  • So tell me: do you like your endings wrapped up with a pretty bow, or do you walk on the wild side and play with Legos?

Kat Sheridan is a recovering project manager and business analyst whose hard-bitten persona has always hidden a secret romantic. She likes her stories with a dark and dangerous flavor, so long as—in the end—the villains are vanquished and true love triumphs. She is inordinately fond of glitter nail polish, shiny things, bourbon, and any comestibles on which frosting can be placed.

Kat splits her time these days between the Midwest in the summer and the South in the winter because she dislikes snow, driving on ice, and wearing shoes (except for flip-flops, preferably with rhinestones). Her peripatetic life is shared with her own real life hero who shows her every day what happily ever after means.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Kat - love happy endings with lots of plot before hand .. I hate to say I've never seen Gone with the Wind, or read the book .. or Shane - one day!!

Imagination and kindness go hand in hand don't they .. just at times we need bucket loads to see what's in the scrunched up package.

I think I usually walk on the wild side with Lego! Enjoy your weeks .. Hilary

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Most enjoyable post. I have never seen Gone With The Wind but have seen Shane,
Have a good day.


Kat Sheridan said...

Good morning, Sia! And thank you for letting me borrow your blog! And SUCH a lovely picture! Reminds me of sitting in my backyard, chatting with you!

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Hilary! I don't know that I could actually slog through the book, Gone With the Wind, but the movie is marvelous. There's the moment when Rhett and Scarlet first meet--the camera pans slowly down the stairs to Clark Gable (Rhett Butler), standing there and looking up at Scarlett with that devilish grin. Every single woman in the theater sighed loudly, in unison. And then we all laughed, because the sigh had been so loud!It's the most perfect "first meet" I've ever seen, and something I try to instill in my own work when I'm writing. I'm sighing just thinking about it!

Kat Sheridan said...

Thank you, Welcome to my world of poetry! I confess, one of the attractions of Shane is Alan Ladd, another sigh-worthy hero! The ending broke my heart, although, since it's such an ambiguous end (and gives me the opportunity to make up my own ending!) I like to think he got patched up and lived to put away his guns and settle in with a loving woman. And THAT is the beauty of an ambiguous ending--it can be whatever *I* want it to be!

Jo said...

I read Gone with the Wind many years ago, and I do mean many. When I saw the film I was disappointed and found it very boring. But in fact, no, I don't really like endings that way, I prefer a resolution by the author. However, such an ending inspires people to talk about it as they have been doing for 75 years. I know I saw Shane, don't think I liked it very much, didn't really stay with me. At my age I don't want to have to spend the rest of my life wondering what happened.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, I thought of that when I posted this picture. I almost posted one of yours. We had some great times out there.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh, and Happy Anniversary to you and Hubs, Kat!

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Jo! I confess, there are times I like everything wrapped up nice and easy and handed to me on a silver platter, especially if I've been having a tough time in other parts of my life. And I think that in books with open endings, what I find is that all the salient PLOT points are wrapped up, but the next step for the CHARACTER is left open. This only works if the author has drawn teh character so well that we KNOW them, and can discern what their next step is likely to be, based on what the author has shown us about them.

That's why I like Ms. Brackmann's books so well. She draws complex characters with such precision that I feel like I'm in their skin, and feel confident I know what they're going to do next.

But with sequels coming out to both of her current books, we'll see if I guessed right! LOL!

Kat Sheridan said...

Sia, thank you for remembering our anniversary! Yes, Hubs and I are celebrating 23 years today. I get to live my own fairy tale every day!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kat. As long at the ending meshes with the rest of the book, I can be happy with it, even if there are elements of ambiguity. What I don't like is an ending that feels like it is glued on or manipulative. Happy Memorial day, Kat and Sia.

Other Lisa said...

Kat, thank you so much for the shout-out, and apologies for my tardy response! I've been flying and what-not.

I read the book, Gone with the Wind, back when I was in high school, and, I remember it being very entertaining. I have no idea what I'd think of it now, but it might be worth a revisit.

I guess I must like endings that are somewhat ambiguous or open-ended, but I actually don't think of them that way in my own books. To me, the issues that are important are resolved. Not everything is resolved, but how can it be, unless you write up to the moment where the character dies at the age of 85, surrounded by his/her loved ones. Or not. Life is a series of adventures, and most novels are limited in the ones they can narrate.

Glynis said...

Lego! :D

I have never seen nor read, Gone With the Wind. I think I will hunt out the movie and find out what I have been missing.

Sia, thank you for offering to host me on your blog. My email address is glynissmy at gmail dot com.

Jo said...

I personally think you should read the book first, as I said, I found the movie to be boring.

Jo said...

I personally think you should read the book first, as I said, I found the movie to be boring.