Monday, November 03, 2008

Novel About My Wife What Happened?

At least a few times a day, according to my webstats, somebody will land on this site because they want to know "Novel About My Wife""What Happened". And these poor people must perpetually go away quite disappointed, because neither my book review nor interview with the author are especially illuminating in that respect. I mean, if you're looking for some plot summary, then I'm your man, but I've a feeling these people are seeking something a bit more specific. Something more like, what in heaven's name was all that chaos at the end?

Full disclosure: I've got NO idea. Author Emily Perkins knows, and I know this because I asked her. In the vaguest terms though. What a waste! I had in front of me the only person who could answer that all-consuming "What happened?" question, but I thought it would be rude to pry. I figured if she'd wanted me to know, she would have put it in the book, but I did want to know if she knew. If what happened to Ann Wells was ever nailed down as a fact.

Perkins said, "No, I do have it. And I had written versions where the gaps were more filled in, but in the end I just thought the thing about Tom is that he is trying to investigate or work out the truth of his wife, but the point of the book for me is that he's left it too late. He had his chance to look her in the eye and be with her in a real way and he was so busy, caught up in himself, romanticizing her and being in love with the mystery and not wanting to know. I didn't want to let him off the hook for that..."

And so we're implicated too as readers, because the text is Tom's creation. His blindness becomes our own, which is annoying for a reader who has been invested in Ann as much as possible, unlike Tom. Annoying that we're invested in Tom's point of view rather than Ann's, but that's interesting too. A pretty powerful narrative device.

I can be a generous reader. If a book or a story is good enough, I am willing to make concessions. The best lesson I ever learned as a reader was in my graduate creative writing workshop, when we were told to look at what we determine as flaws in our classmates' stories,
and to try to understand what the writers might have been doing. Not even what they were trying to do, but just imagine everything is deliberate. Imagine this author actually knows what she's doing, and as a reader that was such a revelation. It wasn't as though the stories became perfect then, but new doors were opened for analysis and understanding. We learned that just because a story isn't the way you'd like it to be doesn't necessarily mean that story isn't the way it is supposed to be.

Which means that when I first read Novel About My Wife, and when I read it again, though I was not wholly satisfied with so much unknowing, I thought the narrative gaps had some purpose. Of course I had suspicions of what might have happened to Ann, and with the rest of the story so full, I was content with my own speculations. (I have also learned to love short fiction, as I've mentioned before, which has well equipped me to be able to make much of pieces I am given.)

Not everybody else was so content though. I started thinking when I read this review, and the following line in particular: "Perkins’s attempt at ambiguity draws the reader in, but does not completely provide the insight needed to satisfy." Which is entirely right, and I had really failed to consider whether satisfying the reader might be the point. I still don't think it's the entire point, but perhaps it's more important than I considered. Alternatively, could readers be looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places?

Update: for a bit more insight on what happened to Ann, check out the fascinating comments on Rachel Powers' blog.