When a Book Ends Differently Than I’d Like

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Have you had this happen? You wanted a story to end a certain way, or you hoped it would. And it didn’t. Maybe it was something you didn’t want. Or maybe it was a surprise, like “I never saw that coming…”

How did you react? Did you throw the book across the room? Vow never to read another book by that author?

This happened to me recently. I just didn’t see the ending coming, and let’s just say, it was not what I was hoping for. I found myself going back and reading the key ending passage again, just to be sure I hadn’t misread it. And I just stopped.

And I realized afresh the reality of the reader’s relationship with the author (except in children’s “choose your own adventure” stories). The author gets to tell the story their way–or however they find the story writing itself–as is sometimes the case.

I sat with the ending for a while. Turned it over in my mind. I realized that there was something truer and richer that occurred than if it would have ended as I hoped. It was also more real to the broken conditions of human life and the arc of the story.

I found myself admiring the mastery of the author who pulled together strands of the plot and characters in ways that surprised me, disturbed me, and made me think afresh about the human condition at its worst and best. I found myself glad that the author didn’t just make me happy.

And I found myself thinking about our stories. We want them to turn out happy. We pray our lives go “smoothly”–a favorite word I find people (and myself) using in our prayers. Yet life doesn’t always go this way. Sometimes, things go badly sideways in an instant. And sometimes a choice “against the grain” plays itself out over years in pain and heartbreak–a nursed grudge or jealousy, a habit over which we lose control.

Perhaps in the end, what is better is not a happy end but a good one. How is that possible? All I have figured out is trusting the Author of our lives at whatever point we find ourselves. Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache teaches all his officers four statements that actually make a lot of sense in this regard:

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know. I need help.”

I don’t think this will result in a “smooth” life, but rather one lived “with the grain” of how our life’s Author would write our story.