Thursday, April 23, 2015

Unfinished Stories

'Nigh on twenty years ago, my mother gave me a book to read. It was called Outlander, written by a new author named Diana Gabaldon. She told me I'd enjoy it. She was right.

By her own admission noted on her web page, Gabaldon wrote Outlander by accident when she decided to write the book for practice to learn what it took to write a novel and decide whether she really wanted to do it. And now eight 900-page historical romance novels later, I guess she figured out 1) how to write a novel and 2) that she really did have a story to tell and really did want to tell it.

After the first three novels, there was a pause in her publications. The first three flowed easily together. The next books were different. For a bit, I thought the story just might be over. The historical elements dominated and clouded the tale and I lost some connection to the characters in the process.

Last June, Gabaldon published the eighth book in the series. I pre-ordered it. I owned the entire series in hardcover after all. But when I picked it up at B & N, I realized that I hadn't read book seven. And when I started book seven, I was confused by where I was. And therein lay the rub ... I was lost in a series twenty years in the making and my only recourse was to start over. So, last July, I posted on Facebook my intention to read all the books and I began at the beginning.

Now this is a HUGE commitment in reading. Each book is complex and, as I said, about 900 pages, give or take a few. And these pages are chock full of detail and description and stuff that make the reading "chewy." 

When I'd first begun the series, my focus was on the main characters -- for those of you who live under a rock and either 1) haven't read the books or 2) haven't heard the hype brought on by the Starz mini-series -- that would be Jamie and Claire. Then along came a daughter, Brianna and her love interest Roger. My first time thru, I lacked interest in that "subplot." That changed the second time around -- probably because I had kids of my own. As a parent, particularly of a precocious daughter, I saw things differently. Brianna and Roger became intriguing.

Several of the middle books began to read like a series of short stories pieced together. Convoluted. Disjointed. I lost interest and had to push though at times. The chapters were full of the mundane. But then -- I reminded myself -- isn't life like that sometimes? I found a different appreciation when I embraced that perspective and the characters' lives became a bit more ordinary. Made me a bit sad, though and I kinda feared their story had run its course. What more could there be to tell? Perhaps, after twenty years, the story was tired, complete, at an end. 

Then I started book seven, An Echo In The Bone. I was drawn in immediately. As I reached the final words on page 814, I wanted more right away. There WAS more to say and it was exciting stuff!

Made me reflective, that discovery. See, the best stories don't have endings. Our favorite tales don't truly have a final epitaph. Even as you turn that last page, you know there is more to the story ... it just may not be written yet. 

Take Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. After the blazing of Manderley, Maxim and Mrs. de Winter had to go somewhere ... something happened next.

As Rhett marched out the door at the conclusion of Gone With The Wind, Scarlett was NOT done. After all, tomorrow was another day and she was not going to sit on those stairs forever. 

Even after seven books, Harry Potter's story continues as his kids go to Hogwarts and begin their own post-Voldemort adventures. I'm sure Harry, Ginny and their friends have things happening to them too. 

Our own lives actually unfold like the writing in a book. Sometimes you turn the final page and move on quickly. Sometime you have to wait for the next chapter to be written. Sometimes the pace is slow -- other times, fast. Sometimes characters come in for a bit and disappear until a later chapter. Sometimes they depart for good and you mourn their loss. Sometimes you write off a character and then they pop in later by surprise. At times, you just have to take a step back and allow time for the tale to define its direction and take its course -- that can take months or even years. Sometimes it may seem like the end but there's still more to say. You must be patient ...

If you think about it, our very lives are actually an evolving tale and not everything is already written -- thank goodness. What you think is an end may just be one of those Nancy Drew chapter cliffhangers with the resolution TBD.

And if our life is a book, then it's full of plot-twists with characters that we are close to and that change the scenario by their very presence -- whether they are on every page or featured now and then. But, like what happens to Jamie and Claire ... sometimes distance, disappointment, change, the mundane or even separation are necessary for the story. So we read on ... 

Oh it's hard to let our favorite characters go. At some point, Gabaldon will write a final novel about Jamie and Claire. But even if she does, I know that their story continues. The End doesn't stop my imagination from writing them an "and then ..." 

The Story goes on, after all. How many of us have said goodbye to characters in our lives only to encounter them again down the line? I personally was just inspired by an email from my best friend from high school ... and I don't think I've seen her in at least ten or so years. But, Tiffany's character still has a place in my own story. Still influences the plot-line even from a distance.

Over the years, many characters have disappeared only to reappear chapters later. I never write anybody out. Who can say what words will be written next in my own ongoing unfinished "story?"  What will happen next?  Only the Author knows ... 
                                                                                                   -- Jenni