Emotional continuity

I finished reading Wool last night, and before I launch into my complaints, I'm going to note that it's a very good book--very good. I liked it a lot. (This will be important later: I also like Christopher Moore a lot.)

Buuut...there are issues with it that are similar to the issues a beta reader flagged in an early draft of Trust: The reader is set up to care about certain things that get forgotten. (This post is going to get spoilery about Wool and some of Christopher Moore's books, so look away if you don't like that sort of thing.)

In the course of Wool the main character stumbles upon a group of very isolated, very helpless individuals who are clearly not going to do well without outside assistance. The main character is quite rightfully very worried about these people and makes efforts to help them, efforts that for one reason and another aren't successful the first time she tries them.

And then she leaves them.

You know--leaves them flat. Thinks to herself, God, these people are screwed! and goes on her merry way. Smell ya later!

At the very end of the book, when the main character emerges triumphant from her labors, she decides to reach out to someone who she has neglected--no, not the people she abandoned and could help now, but her father, who the reader has spent very little time with and who obviously has Asperger's and doesn't give a shit about his kid anyway. His survival is in no way threatened, of course.

Honestly--all it would have taken was a sentence to fix this. One sentence. By the end of the book, the main character is in a position to really help people--and she has great plans to help...her own people. Not those other people. They're gross. She doesn't even think about them.

It's a frustrating choice, and I think it goes to show how hard it is as a writer to recognize what you've set the reader up to care about. It can take months or years to write something that it takes mere hours or days to read, and that disconnect between the writer's experience and the reader's experience can be a tough one to bridge. It's also obvious in Wool that Hugh Howey wants the main character's relationship with her father to be A Major Theme--every 300 pages or so we get another little reminder that She Is Estranged From Her Father And That Is Very Bad (Although Her Father Doesn't Care In The Least, So I Am Skeptical About How Meaningful Any Reconciliation Can Possibly Be).

Anyway, it reminded me of a post I wrote on my old blog back in 2007 when I started reading Christopher Moore's books. I started with Bloodsucking Fiends, which I believe was his first book. I've pretty much read them all that this point, and although his books are really funny and entertaining, the very best you can expect from his endings are that the book will just lurch to a halt.

Here's the old post:

Ending well

Various people whose opinions I respect have recommended Christopher Moore books, so a couple of weeks ago I read Bloodsucking Fiends, and I thought, eh, it's OK but not great. He's funny, but the writing tends to meander. I'm not unhappy that I read this book, but neither do I feel a need to go out and read everything this guy has written.

And then a friend gave me Moore's Practical Demonkeeping and Fluke for Christmas. I just finished reading Practical Demonkeeping, and it is much better than Bloodsucking Fiends--it's just a lot tighter, and there's less of a sense that we're constantly going out of our way because Uncle Chris thinks there might be a joke over here and he'd like to root around for a bit to find it.

But it doesn't end well. It doesn't end horribly--it's not like the narrator wakes up and it was all a dream or anything like that. The plot winds up in an appropriate manner. It's not even as bad as the ending of Memoirs of a Geisha--I'd still heartily recommend this book, while that book is so very good up until the dreadful, forced, Harlequin-romance ending that I never quite know what to tell people.

But the ending of Practical Demonkeeping isn't as satisfying as it could be, and the reason is that Moore spends a lot of time in the book establishing a major romance, which then comes to naught. As in, the two characters involved in the major romance not only don't wind up together, they each wind up with another person. They both had previous relationships with the people they end up with, but in one case the relationship was brief and took place 70 years before the story begins, and in the other the relationship has fallen completely apart, and we only ever see those two interact when they fail to communicate over the phone. In addition, another random man and woman who we have never seen together suddenly become a couple at the end. All these couples live happily ever after, which is nice for them, but...why should I care?

It just feels contrived, like Moore thought it would be neat if the couples ended up in Configuration A, and for some reason he didn't think it would bother the reader if the entire novel was spent setting up Configuration T. The disconnect between character and action is so bad [this part is REALLY spoilery, you should probably skip it if you haven't read the book] that when a character loses her spouse of some 70 years who she genuinely loves and who loves her, she weeps about it for about two minutes, and then she hooks up with some other guy. Way to go, lady! No need to let your husband's violent death interfere with your getting laid!