Plague World: What constitutes a ‘good’ book ending?

tacky

In August, author Dana Fredsti released Plague World, the third and final novel in her Ashley Parker girl-kicks-zombie-butt series. Years ago, the first book, Plague Town, caught me by surprise as I wasn’t expecting something so good — Resident Evil novelizations have taught me that zombie fiction is usually kind of corny, while The Walking Dead comics and countless movies about the undead have convinced me that any visual probably suits the genre best.

Thankfully, I was wrong, and the Ashley Parker series is as good or better than any zombie movie (although it’s still a little corny, in a good, fully-conscious-of-its-corniness way of course).

Still, as much as I love Fredsti’s writing, I was a teensy bit hard on the second book, Plague Nation. I was worried that — with the zombie outbreak spreading so fast and then going airborne — maybe this thing was getting too out of hand for her or any of the characters to manage.

I didn’t know it then, but that was kind of the point.

plague town

Not everyone was happy about the trilogy’s ending. One reader on Goodreads left a one-star review (warning: it’s here, but spoilers!) and asked, “How on earth is that conceivably a good ending? An appropriate one? I … I can’t even … I’m so pissed off I wasted all this time just to end up with THAT! [...] I will NEVER recommend this series to anyone (even my enemies) again. It was that wrong. If I could go back in time and unread the Ashley Parker series I would.”

So, yeah, strong reaction.

Let me first say that, without revealing any specific details, I thought Dana Fredsti did a beautiful job on the ending to Plague World. So big hint here: Somebody dies. Was I shocked by what happened? Yes. Was I OK with this death? Not so much, and I can understand why someone else might outraged.

But was it a good ending? Yes, yes, yes — because first, it was indeed “appropriate.” OK, minor spoilers here, but not really: It’s an apocalypse. People tend to die. Secondly, the ending wasn’t good because the characters died or lived. It was good because it was believable. I was expecting Fredsti to try to find a way to “resolve” the huge Zombie problem with a capital Z, but that wasn’t giving her enough credit. Would we be able to fix something like that in real life with a wink and two swings of a paragraph? No, I don’t think so. The consequences of a catastrophe that huge would last a long time.

I understand the reviewer’s disappointment. I even understand her anger. But to say that the ending wasn’t worth the journey because you disagreed with it — well, that’s like saying your whole life is shit just because something bad happens. And, hey, we all totally do that sometimes. I’m as guilty as anyone. But you’re going to drive yourself crazy unless you realize that you got some good stuff out of the experience, too, and maybe you learned something, and that has to be enough. Life isn’t fair, and frankly, the author doesn’t owe you anything — except maybe a conclusion to all hanging plot threads (which Fredsti addressed). Be happy you got a third book at all.

Take The Hunger Games, for example. I love that trilogy. But hell if I don’t think Mockingjay is the biggest insult to Katniss and readers everywhere. Do I hate it so much that I wish Collins had never even bothered, or that I hadn’t read a single word? No. Because the story wasn’t a waste. It provided me with some entertainment for a while, and I got to disappear into a world and become close to imaginary characters that mean so much to readers that they might as well be real. It’s the mark of a good author when you give a shit what happens to a character. If you’re angry or sad or scared or even happy — the author has done her job.

So if Fredsti made that reviewer that upset, she obviously wrote some good characters because the reader was attached to them. But to wish you had never picked up those books and met those characters is like saying you wished you had never met Dumbledore or — hell — anyone in real life. Because we all die sometime. And we’re all worth knowing, for however long or short of a time that we’re here.

Grade: B

A new young adult book that ‘navigates self-doubt, alienation, and resilience’

In Real Life

I’m proud to share the book trailer for my friend Lawrence Tabak’s (@LawrenceTabak) upcoming young adult book In Real Life. Publisher’s Weekly (Oct. 6 edition) said he “credibly navigates self-doubt, alienation, and resilience in his debut novel, which ends on a tantalizing open-ended note”:

In Real Life is about a 15-year-old named Seth Gordon, who has all the normal troubles of adolescence — girls, after-school jobs, grades — only he’s really, really good at video games. So good, in fact, that he travels to Korea to join an internationally famous pro gaming team. But the life of a star isn’t all that he imagined it to be.

It was my pleasure to read In Real Life this spring and to help Larry polish the book before its forthcoming release. Definitely give it a read this November!

You can read an interview with Larry and news outlet Technology Tell right here.

5 reasons why you should read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle right now

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

I’ve never read Haruki Murakami before I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. When I did, I fell in love. So if you haven’t read any of his books either, you’ll want to — and just start with Wind-Up Bird, okay? — because:

You’ve never read anything like it

Murakami is weird. While I was reading Wind-Up Bird, I had no idea where the story was going to go next or what new character I was going to meet. He kind of pulls things — weird things — from all over the place, and it’s very surreal. Yet at the same time, it feels totally ordinary.

Here’s what I mean: Wind-Up Bird is about a guy — a rather boring, passive, pushover guy named Toru Okada — whose cat disappears, followed by his wife. That’s pretty normal in a way, but then totally crazy stuff happens to him. His next-door neighbor is a girl who likes to talk about death and is slightly perverted and fakes having a limp and judges bald guys on a rating scale for the wig company she works for part-time. A series of women start consulting with him about his lost cat and have dream sex with him. His brother-in-law is a psychopath with the clout of Oprah Winfrey. And to get his bearings on life, he sits for days in the bottom of a well.

… Right?

Yet underlying these events is a gravity: a man trying to make sense of his life. Through this is a connectedness that spans time and space — between people in history and the present, and between realities and dreams. The story is hard to recap concisely, yet there is a cohesiveness to it. It’s hard to tell where the line between fantasy and reality ever blurred in the first place.

It’s a fast read

But it’s not a short book. You’ve got 600 or so pages to read, and it’ll blow right by you. Because it’s so random and absorbing, you won’t want to stop because where the fuck is it going next? Who knows!

Wind-Up Bird well

It’s kind of beautiful

“I was dying. Like all the other people who live in this world.”

Wind-Up Bird is surreal. That makes sense, given how strange it can be. But even with all the sex talk and the perviness and sometimes the violence, the way the words add up on the page can be quite beautiful and wise. The way the characters’ conversations get at the truth of human nature is affecting.

For instance:

That night, in our darkened bedroom, I lay beside Kumiko, staring at the ceiling and asking myself just how much I really knew about this woman. … In the dark, I thought about blue tissues and patterned toilet paper and beef and green peppers. I had lived with her all this time, unaware how much she hated these things. In themselves they were trivial. Stupid. …

But this was different. It was bothering me in a strange new way, digging at me like a little fish bone caught in the throat. Maybe — just maybe — it was more crucial than it had seemed. … I might be standing in the entrance of something big, and inside lay a world that belonged to Kumiko alone, a vast world that I had never known. I saw it as a big, dark room. I was standing there holding a cigarette lighter, its tiny flame showing me only the smallest part of the room.

Would I ever see the rest? … What was the point of my life at all if I was spending it in bed with an unknown companion?

Murakami pays the kind of attention to details and words the way a patient man does his surroundings — and both Murakami and the main character are painstakingly patient men. (OK, well at least I imagine Murakami’s that kind of guy.)

The descriptions can also be pretty funny

Sometimes I’m not sure if certain word choices just got lost in translation or if Murakami meant them to be that way. Like this sentence: “Thanks to the phone call, the spaghetti was a little softer than al dente, but it had not been dealt a mortal blow.”

I find some of the conversations totally ridiculous, too. There’s a woman who nicknames herself Nutmeg, for instance, and the conversations between the main character and his teenage neighbor are inappropriate yet oddly endearing. She’s way too open, he’s way too understanding, and somehow they conduct a perfectly civil conversation about how easy it would be for her to kill him — depending on her mood.

May Kasahara

The neighbor, May Kasahara, via Tumblr.

The chapter titles are like poetry

The Well and Stars
How the Ladder Disappeared

or

The Signal Turns Red
The Long Arm Reaches Out

How the pieces fit together to tell a story is a little like how the characters come and go in each other’s lives: Affecting seemingly little, yet making a ripple that touches everything, and in turn everything else.

Is there a message to Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? I’m not sure, but it might have something to do with how little control we have over the reckless current of our lives, and how hard it is to change its direction. It might have something to do with your answer to this:

“… I feel as if my every move is being controlled by some kind of incredibly long arm that’s reaching out from somewhere far away, and that my life has been nothing more than a convenient passageway for all these things moving through it.”

… “Haven’t you ever felt that way?”