When I first walked into Big Commercial Bookstore – not actually the name – and purchased this book, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, the cashier said, “Out of all the books I’ve read this year, this was my favorite. You’re going to love it.” And if anyone has ever had this happen to them before, you know exactly what’s going to happen. The book doesn’t meet those expectations.
I mean, of course it’s not going to meet them! You just raised the bar for the reader by bragging about how amazing this book is going to be, and of course, I’m going to raise the bar above my standards, thinking this book is going to be one out of a million, which of course it isn’t. Because even if books are amazing, they’re not perfect.
So I read the book, and I can tell you, it’s not perfect. Every author has their quirks, their own ideas, and although I appreciate everything, it’s not my favorite. But thank you cashier for raising the bar even more.
But there was one thing I truly appreciated, besides the nicely written summaries, which everyone should learn from because they aren’t boring in any way even if they do take up a huge portion of the book, and that is the ending.
In my perspective, there’s two types of endings, which probably over generalizes things, but this is again a general rule within my opinion.
For open endings, the finale of the book reaches some general conclusion, but never really wraps things up. You never find out what happens to Joe’s mother. Bobby’s friend. Does Shannon get into the American all-girl’s school after fighting sexist stereotypes against Thai Tom’s? Who knows…
For closed endings, the book reaches a finale. It ties everything up and shows you how everything ends. A good example of this would be the epilogue in the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling showed us who marries who, how the story ended and how the good guys won. She firmly ended the series so that in no way could they be continued. (Probably a good thing considering how dedicated her fan base is. You as the writer probably don’t want to suffer the pressure of continuing a possible series.)
This book – and I know this may SPOIL details for you – but this book ends like this, abbreviated-style:
This is my will and testament. My confession, if you will. My victory, my apology. These are the last words I will write in this life, for already I can feel the end coming to this body, as the end always comes…And in another life, a life yet to come, a seven-year-old boy will walk down a lane beyond south London with a cardboard box in his hand. He will stop before a house whose gardens smell of rhododendrons and hear the whistle of a passing train…This seven-year-old child will approach these strangers and, with the innocence of youth, offer them something from his cardboard box. An apple, maybe, or an orange…I promise the poison will be quick.
And Vincent Rankis will never be born. (North 403-405)
This ending I thought was amazing. You are not shown anything, which is a complete reversal of what every writer is told. “Show, not tell.” And yet, here we are told exactly how the story will end. We are given a letter, in which Harry reveals to his enemy, Vincent, that he will kill him, that Vincent doesn’t have much time left, and it’s already too late. And yet, we never see him kill Vincent. We are told how. We are given all the details, but we’re never shown if it’s successful.
Good-grape-ilicious-gosh, I love this ending! Nothing and everything is wrapped up. Simultaneously, this ending is open because we are not shown the definitive end, and yet this ending is closed because we know what’s going to happen next.
Because this ending forces the reader to imagine the ending, since it’s not technically shown, it forces them to think. It gives them closure because we can assume Harry will succeed, and yet we will never truly be satisfied without proof of his success. It achieves this perfect balance that I think a lot of books struggle to achieve.
What I would recommend is leave your readers within this sense of balance. To me, I think this ideal. Give them a sense of closure, but don’t close the door all the way. Give readers the motivation to think, to imagine. As authors, our job is to make our readers question the world around them. It would be in our best interest to try!
North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2014. Print.