September 20, 2008

I’ve decided. Endings are so hard.

In the past few years I have encountered many disappointing endings (The Color Purple, The Lovely Bones), many perfect ones (The Grapes of Wrath, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), and some that I just don’t know what to do with (Salinger’s short fiction).

Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes is one of the best contemporary novels that I have read in a very long time (likely since I finished my BA).  It speaks deeply and truthfully to the core of the hurt and the spirit of humankind.

The book uses historical fact (Loyalist African-Americans were transplanted at the close of the Revolutionary war to Nova Scotia and other locations throughout the Commonwealth, and their names were recorded in ledgers – these documents can be seen in public archives in Britain, the United States, Nova Scotia, and online through Library and Archives Canada) to shape the story of Aminata Diallo, torn from her home in Africa by the slave trade and taken to the eastern United States, shipped to Nova Scotia, returned to Africa, and finally to Britain to join the abolitionist movement.

The story is told in the first person, and Aminata is one of the strongest, most engaging female narrators in my literary experience, without seeming superhuman or unreal. It truly is an exceptional human story, and so enthralled me that I finished it this morning, having started it in earnest yesterday afternoon.

But as always, I’m tripped up by the ending.  I really dislike it when a fictional narrative tries to be “neat”…that’s what made me shrug at The Kite Runner, which I had loved throughout.  The tidiness in Hill’s book is bothersome, but more believable and better suited to the rest of the narrative.

I wonder why so many authors feel this pull.

I can, perhaps, understand it as representative of the need of all of us for reconciliation and hope.  But I think literature offers better, more nuanced ways to leave readers that way than through the resolution of some messy, but truthful, plot point.