Does the ending suit you?
I’ve done a lot of reading this summer. I’ve also spent a lot of time studying reader reviews on Amazon, as well as taking part in discussion groups on Goodreads. Two of the books I’ve read, in particular – Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and Lisa Genova’s Inside the O’Briens – had endings with which readers took issue. And I don’t just mean readers saying they didn’t like the ending. I mean readers saying that the ending “stank,” that the author “blew it,” that the ending “ruined” the book. We’re talking over-the-top stridency.
At least, that’s my take on it. Being an author, I’m sensitive about this. Perhaps over-sensitive. But consider this.
I’ve always maintained that you can give six authors the same plot, and they’ll write very different books. Likewise, there may be six different ways for an author to end her own book, but she can pick only one. She does this with care, ending the book in a way that she feels is most consistent with her writing style and her goals. She can’t please all her readers. She knows that. She can only do what she thinks is right for this book into which she has poured her heart and soul for however many months or years the writing has taken. She certainly doesn’t put all possible endings in a hat, close her eyes, and pick one.
But you’d think it, based on some online comments. And not only about endings. About plot twists, characters, and language. What about respect for the author’s choices, even if we don’t like them? What about trying to figure out why the author did what she did before dismissing her as incompetent?
Over the years, I’ve done my share of judging writing contests. And boy, could I have let loose with criticism when an entry hit me the wrong way. Did I? Of course not. It would have been hurtful, for one thing, and, for another, it would have been counterproductive for a would-be author. Every book has positives, if you make the effort to look for them. A reviewer (or judge) can point these out and then, in constructive terms, point out its failings. Can’t she?
One of the Goodreads discussions I monitored deteriorated when two participants repeatedly went after each other. Each had a point to make and wanted the last word. It became a power struggle. On another board, another member didn’t like the ending of Go Set a Watchman, and went on and on about it, just couldn’t let it go. She actually began listing participants who were on her side, like it was a contest. Seriously.
Lack of civility is rampant in our society. Internet anonymity and talk show vitriol has taken its toll. But we’re intelligent people. We’re readers. Can’t we rise above this?