Friday, April 10, 2009

Themed Reading Review: I Know This Much Is True (Part II)

I hate happy endings. There's something just too neat about having all the loose ends tied up, especially in a book that clearly intends to be some approximation of modern life. I don't mind it so much in, say, a Shakespeare comedy, or Dickens, or a fairy tale. It's kind of expected there, because it's part of the form. But don't insult me with a modern novel that has everything come out nice and even in the end. Modern happy endings always seem like a cop-out.

Even in a book that purports to relate to fairy tales. And this book really hits you over the head with the fairy tale stuff. The psychiatrist? She's an anthropologist, too. She riffs on famous twins of history and legend, the quest for the unknown father, and the natural cycle of creation and destruction. Just in case you missed it, she gives the protagonist a reading list that includes Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Okay, I get it already! I get it.

Well done, the hero's journey is a wonderful motif. It's a great way to tell a story, and some people say it's the only way to tell a story. I enjoy the idea of the protagonist being an underdog, crossing a threshold, meeting helpmeets along the way, facing down dragons and other challenges, gaining a boon, and returning to bring the benefits to his community in a transformational way. But badly done, it's just a formula and lacks all the power and majesty that the true archetypes can lend to a story.

So what do I mean, happy ending? (Warning: spoilers ahead. If you care, stop reading now.)

Let's see. The protagonist faces his demons and doesn't have to go back to therapy anymore. He learns at last who his father is, and the father just happens to be a war hero. He learns he doesn't have AIDS. He reconciles with his stepfather. He reconciles with a childhood acquaintance, who also turns out to be his cousin. He reads the autobiography of the grandfather he never knew, who wrongfully arranged for a woman to be committed to a mental hospital, and then meets up with the very same woman just in time to reconcile with her, too. And he gets his teaching job back. AND he reconciles with the ex-wife he's never stopped loving. AND they get to adopt a baby daughter to replace the baby they lost to crib death. AND as if these weren't enough happy endings to make you sick, he becomes a millionaire, too. Give me a break.

Probably other people loved this book. But I don't even like it enough to post an excerpt. I looked, really I did, but there's no passage in 897 pages that I care to share. I'm just happy that it's . . . well . . . ending.

4 comments:

  1. I will remember to never ever read it. Never.

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  2. Haven't read it, but based on what you've written, I think I agree with you.

    Loved the Brothers K quote BTW.

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  3. 897 pages? and you didn't like it? Wow. i don't think I would've made it through!

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  4. Oooh... glad to know that. People don't often share when a book is that bad. Thanks for the heads-up.

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