Wednesday, November 14, 2012

When a Story Fails

What throws you out of a story?  For me, it's finding that a dead person is telling the story.  I suppose this stems from an a piece of advice offered by a horror editor.  He asked a simple question, "How can a dead person tell (write) a story?"  Maybe if you know up front that your narrator is dead it doesn't feel quite so gimmicky.  You know that ending, "Oh, by the way, I'm dead."

So what brought me to this topic?  I just finished reading "Peace Like a River" and two chapters from the end I read this "Here my terrestrial witness fails.".  I wanted to throw the book up against the wall  All the while I'd been reading and the kid telling the story was dead...or was he?  Of course the ending fit with the theme of the book but by then I didn't really care.  The author hadn't played fair.

I don't think I've ever been so disappointed in a book.  Not only was the narrator dead, but there were so many loose ends left that I wanted to scream.  I'd heard so many good things about this book that I truly wanted to love it, but the final three chapters just killed the book for me.


Charles Gramlich said...

I think that kind of gimmick can work only in a very short form. At novel length it is just irritating.

Thomas Pluck said...

It worked in Sixth Sense, but I've never watched it again. It was a one trick pony because of it.
I hate when the author is afraid to give us a happy ending. As if it devalues what came before. But to me, contrived tragedy is as bad as tying everything in a neat little bow.

sandra seamans said...

I agree, Charles. I've seen it work in stories like Stanley Ellin's "The House Party."

Yes, Thomas, it doesn't pack the same punch after you've seen it once! There is a happy ending for the book (I tried not to give it away) but it still felt contrived and made the ending feel like the author was plodding along trying to make things right.