Throwing the Book

  Michele:    Some books have such unexpected endings that the reader reacts physically. I have thrown books twice in my life when I felt duped by the writer. Anita Shreve invoked the wrath of many fans with The Last Time They Met. I know readers have reacted hysterically when a favorite character is killed, particularly if he or she is part of series. Ask Elizabeth George. I’ve heard authors discuss invoking terror and distress in the hearts of their readers just to shake things up a bit and to challenge themselves.    The question is what book(s) had an ending that inspired a dramatic reaction from you and why? What do you think about using this as a technique as a writer?   Paula:   There’s an old adage in publishing: The first page sells the book, the last page sellsthe next book. So writers should beware endings that infuriate or frustrate orperplex readers. For my part, I’m a typical reader: I don’t much like ambiguousendings, or endings in which the main action is not resolved, or endings whereeverybody dies. I remember the ending of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoultwhich dismayed me. I saw it coming, and still it dismayed me. And I wasn’t alone.I saw Jodi Picoult at an event for the book, she wrote after that one, and she toldthe audience she had a feeling that many readers had not forgiven her for thatending quite yet. And the visceral response of the audience confirmed herfeeling. If that had been her first book, she may not be the bestselling authorshe is today. A cautionary tale I take very seriously as a writer, an editor, andan agent. Note: XXX below is to avoid a SPOILER Susan:  I love Game of Thrones and I felt I took XXX’s death reasonably well. But after I saw the Red Wedding, I sat there with my mouth agape. (I read the book afterwards and it wasn’t as shocking by then.) I think XXX’s death actually changed my feeling about the book. I still enjoy it and am awed by Martin’s imagination and writing. But I will never trust him again and because of that I don’t think I ever loved the later characters as much as the early ones. But that might just be me being dramatic. Paula:    I love Game of Thrones. George RR Martin is a hoot. He’ll kill off anybody. It takes a really skilled writer with a large cast of characters to pull that off and get away with it.  Susan:   I think I saw somewhere a query letter that he wrote before GOT was published, warning the publishers that no one would be safe. Clearly, it has worked for him!  Tracee:    I can’t think of an ending that angered me. Okay, when Tolstoy killed off Prince Andrei in War and Peace I didn’t forgive him, but that’s been a very, very long time ago and I’ve come to terms with it. Andrei did act like an arrogant heel and I suppose it had to end this way (maybe I do have some latent anger…..).ps I may have to go on Wikipedia and read the episode descriptions for Game of Thrones so I don’t get too attached to characters who have a short life span….. Cate:    Shutter Island inspired a dramatic reaction from me along the lines of “Holy S—, how did I not see that coming?” Then I reread the book and realized I should have totally figured out that–spoiler alert–something was wrong with the main character. I think some of my favorite books have spurred that kind of “how was I duped” reaction. But I always re-read to see if the author was playing fair and, if I find that they weren’t (the amnesia was selective or they were consciously lying to the reader the whole time even when we were supposed to be hearing their unadulterated thoughts from a first person perspective, for example, then I get pretty upset).  Susan:    Disregard what I said, Tracee. No one dies. 🙂 Robin:    Stephen King is notorious for killing off sympathetic characters. It was hard to take at first but now I’m used to it. When I read new King books I try to guess who’s he building up to kill off. Usually I’m right but Mr. Mercedes set up two characters for sacrifice. I had a 50/50 chance and guessed wrong. There’s a certain pattern to the sympathetic death in his recent work and I’d hoped the setup was because he would break it. He didn’t. I won’t elaborate because it would be a spoiler to at least 3 books I can name off the top of my head.The twists in Gone Girl made me reread previous chapters to see if there were clues I missed. In that case I wasn’t angry, I was impressed. Except for the ending. It was unexpected because the rest of the book was so tightly wound, the ending seemed banal by contrast.An older book I really struggled with was Bless The Beasts And Children. It angered me for lots of reasons and I do recall throwing it across the room when I finished. I expected redemption. The rest of the book was horrendous and I held out hope for some sort of a happy ending. It packed such an emotional punch that I still remember scenes vividly and I was in middle school when I read it. On the off chance it’s on someone’s “to be read” list I don’t want to reveal much. Let’s just say I’m really happy about certain taboos now so I don’t have to go through chapter after chapter of unpleasant surprises. Alexia:   I can’t think of any book that made me mad enough to throw it. I don’t mind if sympathetic characters are killed off if their death serves some purpose. (Yes, I’m a Hero’s Journey believer.) My favorite characters often don’t survive for the sequel because I’m drawn to the character most in need of redemption (you know, the “bad guy” who, like Han Solo, is really a good guy underneath the selfish exterior) and finding redemption seems to make characters number one with a bullet. They’re redeemed by sacrificing themselves for the good of others. I’m okay with tragic endings.  I find “happy ever after” cloying if it’s just done to “disney-fy” the story and didn’t follow from events. I can think of several short stories and books that disappointed me. Some were about rotten characters doing rotten things to other rotten characters because the author saw one too many 3rd-rate, neo-noir movies and thought they should write that way because that’s all there is to noir fiction. Some failed to live up to their super-hype. Their twists weren’t half as clever as the author thought they were and/or the main characters were too stupid to live past chapter three. Some were obvious rip offs of better books or they were so “trendy” they were nauseating. Or they were as pretentious as their authors–ten pages in and you knew the author was convinced they were writing an “Important Book”. My reaction to these is usually just to close the book and put it in the Donate to Charity pile (or return it unfinished to the library). The only type of books I genuinely dislike, as a class, are those where someone takes an iconic series character created by a now-deceased author and tries to continue the series but can’t resist adding their own spin. (“Reinterprets the character for a modern audience.” No. Just don’t.)  I don’t care much for re-tellings of iconic stories for the same reason. The only books that have really pissed me off fell into this category. I swore at them but didn’t throw them. Alison: Hmmm. I had to think about this question because my threshold for throwing a book across the room is too low to wait until the end. I’ll close a book never to open it again for a number of reasons, mostly dealing with sloppy research, writing or underestimating the reader’s intelligence. My persnickety list of my pet peeves includes: not getting historical details right, making a main character an expert in an area and then misspelling a word in said area of expertise, not playing fair (although I love to watch Sherlock and Elementary, I do not read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because he pulls rabbits out of his hat), being able to guess whodunit as easily as figuring out romantic entanglements in the first five minutes of the Love Boat, and anachronistic dialogue. As I write this, I have now doomed myself to make all of these errors. I will conclude with this: please forgive me. Your turn, dear readers. And like our not-so-dainty Miss Demeanors, don’t hold back/

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