Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't Make Me Guess

Over the last few days, I've torn through a series of four awesome books. They are written by an internationally bestselling author you would know (though this is a less-known series). Chances are, you've read and enjoyed at least one of his/her books. He/she doesn't really need my promotion, so I'm going to focus on the one thing that ruined the series for me.

The ending.

Through the series, the 1st person POV heroine vasilated between two guys. Both were cool, both were in love with her, but one came out as the clear winner. Absolutely no one could possibly be on the other guy's team by the end of the third book.

So heroine spent the fourth book reconciling with the clear winner. Their on-again-off-again romance had been plagued by trust issues, so heroine had to learn to trust him, as he had to learn to trust her. The fourth book did a wonderful job patching things up, gradually building their faith in each other. Giving her reasons to believe that her man would really stand by her and support her in hard decisions.

Until.

Toward the end of book four, heroine got some news that rocked her world. This news, should she choose to share it, would have made her chosen guy the happiest man in the world... but would likely have spurred him to make choices directly in conflict with choices heroine had already made. Both had similar goals in regards to this news, but the guy would probably have had a vastly different approach to accomplishing this goal. Most importantly, both had equal rights to make these choices. Both would be tremendously effected by the decisions.

Should heroine fail to share this news with her guy, he couldn't fail but see it as the worst breach of trust in history. She knew this. She reasoned out about how much it would damage her relationship later, when she inevitably had to tell him. When he found out how many years of happiness she had denied him, if she refused to trust him to make the choice she believed to be correct. If she refused to even allow him input that might have actually improved upon the choice she believed to be correct.

And she chose to keep it from him. She reasoned that she'd bear the pain of the "correct" choice all by herself and just live with the fallout when he found out about her duplicity.

And that was bad enough. After four books, heroine had obviously learned nothing about trust. She had chosen to love in the absence of trust.Which, as any happily married adult can tell you, is no kind of way to keep your love alive.

Then, on the last page of the fourth-and-final book, as she has embarked on her career of lying to the man she loves and has chosen to spend her life with... she remarks to the reader "Of course, maybe I'll tell him after all. He is rather irresistible." The end.

Seriously?

Ever read The Lady or the Tiger? It's a famous story which sets you up for the ultimate philosophical cliffhanger: would the barbarian princess rather watch her star-crossed beloved be a) torn to little bloody bits by a tiger, or b) traipse off to wedded bliss with another lady? The story, published in 1882, doesn't answer the question. The lack of an answer, more than any other element, has kept the story in circulation for 130 years now. It has spawned enough copy-cats to become its own allegory.

But please, folks: don't try this in a novel. Especially not in genre fiction.

Don't set up a question over a series of books (Will the heroine earn lasting happiness by learning how to trust her beloved?) and then FAIL TO ANSWER IT.

Don't take me through days of trials and heartache and bad decisions just to leave me hanging in the end.

Don't give me a romance where the Happily Ever After is ultimately in question. (Also, don't give me a romance where the Happily Ever After fails to materialize.)

Don't make me guess whether the characters will actually be happy.

It's frustrating enough in a short story. It makes me want to burn a whole series. It makes me want to have that time back. It makes me need to rewrite the ending just so I can justify my binge-reading to myself. It ensures that, as wonderful as the rest of the story may have been, I will never recommend the series to someone else.

Have you ever loved a book only to completely despise the ending?

10 comments:

  1. Analogous to the issue you had in that series, I can remember a book that my friends and I read in college (I forget the name now) where the whole book was leading up to the conflict between the heroine and the evil antagonist. Both were highly skilled in their magical abilitys. So everyone expected a hugle cliffhanging battle at the end.

    The actual battle ended up being a page and a half that basically said, her magic was greater then his so she beat him easily.

    Talk about a letdown.

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    1. Dang. I'd be for burning that one, too. (Okay, not really, but still.)

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  2. There's a very famous series of 4 books that I personally view as a trilogy for this very reason. My take is that the writer wasn't honest with her characters and created a fan fiction world ending that betrayed her own character's motivations. I think what's worse is characters who aren't true to themselves - or how they were written in books 1-whatever, and then the ending is some sort of contrived formula that doesn't relate.

    I think endings can be bittersweet as long as it stays true to the characters. If the heroine doesn't choose either guy, but it's because she's learned something about herself. But I agree, to give the "happy" ending that's fueled by a lie isn't satisfactory!

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    1. Yes! You can't just chose the ending you want and force your rounded characters into the square pseudo-resolution. Blech.

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  3. There have been a few, but I don't want to name names. It's always worse when it's a series b/c you've invested years into the books since an author only releases one book a year. I'm always afraid someone may feel that way about my book--eek! I guess we can't please everyone, right? But we shall try:) P.S. If you're interested, there's a big author on my blog giving away a book and critique this week!~cheers

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    1. My blog is a "don't diss and tell" zone. You can diss a book, but you can't identify it. :)

      Awesome contest, by the way.

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  4. Oh wow, if I read a series like this, you can bet I'd be throwing some books across the room. There's a difference between an open ending and no ending at all -- and that's really no ending at all. It sounds like the author was trying to go for something and just completely missed the mark. (Or got really bored with the story by the end.)

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    1. Personally I think she ran out of character motivation to get the ending she wanted, so she just tacked it on and fudged it.

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  5. I'm with you there, Robin. What a stupid ending to that series as you described it. I would have lost all respect for the mc. And probably never picked up anything by that author again.

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    1. Which really would have been a mistake. Her other series I've read is superb--and ends well, to boot.

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