“How do you think Secret Sister ended?”
My dear friend Kathleen R. asked me this question when we were discussing my new book and the reviewer’s response to it. I was surprised at her question, and my first thought was, ‘what do you mean, how do I think it ended? I know how it ended. I wrote it.’
But of course her question was brilliant, as are most things Kathleen R. says are. And it got me thinking.
My opinion on how Secret Sister ends is just that, my opinion. I weaved hints, clues, and statements of fact throughout the 90,000 word novel. I ‘showed’, like all we authors try to do, what the various characters were thinking, mulling, and concluding about the very strange situation Cathy and Nick Chance found themselves in. And my opinion is solidly based on my reading (and writing) of this contemporary ‘trading places’ romance.
But that doesn’t make me the final word, or ‘right’. About any of it.
Authors tell their story, and if we do it well, the ending themes and situations are clear and factually grounded in the incidents that make up the story. Yet, I knew this but may have forgotten it, readers bring themselves to every story. The novels we immerse ourselves in reflect back into us, illuminating each of our unique life experiences. They let us confirm, and question, our positions on life and love, and innocence and guilt, and on all the wonderful complexity of the human soul.
How many wonderful arguments have each of us had over the years about a particular character’s true motives or emotional make-up? I’ve had several heated ones in my critique group about New Yorker magazine short stories, books and numerous films…some of the most heated about characters in each of our books! “What do you mean he’s a sniveling weakling, I think this shows he’s empathetic,” I believe is an exact comment I uttered. Possibly more than once. (My male characters are very in touch with their feminine side. HA!)
The reviews about Secret Sister have certainly proven this to me…I have been shocked at readers judging the book as ‘intense’ or ‘painful’. I’ve loved that most find the plot really hooks them and they can’t figure out how it’s going to end. But I’ve also been unhappy that some have pretty much hated my characters ‘at one time or another’ when reading. How could they hate these folks, I wondered? Yes, they are flawed and make mistakes, and are a bit self-involved, but… Okay, I just read that and realize, yeah, readers could hate them. Some of the time (the author wrote hopefully).
But why did some readers love these guys, and others not? But of course, Kathleen R.’s comment is the answer. The words of the story touched something in each of the readers, something unique and wonderful in their memory or heart, something I may not have intended, but something real for that reader. And real for the reader is real. Reading is a collaborative sport, and the author doesn’t get to complain about what a reader concludes. No matter what.
So, as for the ending of Secret Sister? Cupcake’s review on Goodreads and Amazon said, “The ending is not as neat as it appears, and you will find yourself asking "what if ..."
This, in my somewhat shocked opinion as a writer, is a valid take away. It wasn’t consciously designed to be an ending open to interpretation. But I realize that, if I tell the honest truth, a case can be made for Secret Sister’s final scene to prove almost the opposite of what I intended.
Ahhh…the subconscious mind. All those experiences in my life, rising up and ambushing my good narrative intentions. Or, fulfilling them?
The bottom line is ‘Yay readers’. They get the final say what your book ‘means’. It is what the reading experience is really all about. Thank you, Kathleen R., for reminding me of this.