No Happy Endings

The other night, Tarini and I spent awhile talking about my novel. She’s read about half of it and has a pretty good idea of where it’s going, since she lived much of the second half alongside me, so she understands that it’s going to get worse for the characters before it gets better. So, she made a suggestion: maybe I should incorporate my new relationship into the story, to end on a more positive note.

She didn’t know I’d already written the last chapter, months ago, and have geared the entire storyline of the second half toward that miserable chapter, in which it becomes pathetically clear that our narrator and protagonist has learned nothing and will continue to make terrible decisions motivated by selfishness, greed, and crippling low self-esteem.

That’s actually one of the few ways in which I differ from the character I’m writing. The entire novel, I’ve come to realize, is a way for me to both come to terms with my twenties and leave them happily behind. It has forced me to relive moments of my life I never wanted to revisit, but I’m finally processing it all, and that’s extremely helpful in moving forward. I don’t think it’s unusual to look back with rose-colored glasses, wanting to make the same mistakes because all we’re thinking about is the good, and before we remember the bad, we’re plunged cock-deep into a rerun of our lives. I’m spewing my reruns onto the page while a spectacular new season of my life unfolds — and you won’t believe what I have in store for November sweeps! (Hint: I have nothing in store.) Maybe that’ll make this novel solipsistic, navel-gazing bullshit, but why should I let that stop me? If nothing else, it’ll be more entertaining than Eat, Pray, Love.

It’s not that Tarini is wrong to suggest a different trajectory; in fact, I thought of the same thing. Throughout the novel, the way “Stan” relates to the women in his life serves as a metaphor for the way he relates to the ultimate hideous bitch goddess, the movie industry. So doesn’t it stand to reason that, as he’s ground down to a miserable, anxious nub doing a terrible job on behalf of one of the worst people ever to walk the earth, he should meet a new woman who reflects his gradual shift in priorities? On a non-metaphorical narrative level, she could even serve as a catalyst for these changes, instead of the boring reality of a puzzled therapist and an orange plastic bottle brimming with Cymbalta.

I flirted with the idea of adding the new relationship to the novel, but I didn’t know if it felt right. Tarini encouraging me to do the same certainly gave me pause, but I’m still just not sure. And here’s where things might start to get really heady…

The character of “Stan” is modeled after me. He experiences events in my life, re-sequenced to be more dramatically compelling… But he’s not exactly me — he’s a version of me reflected both through the prism of time and the prism of self-hatred. In essence, he’s the absolute worst version of me. And don’t get me wrong, especially in the event that this novel is released and you read it — I said and did all of those horrible things, and thought all of those horrible thoughts. But this novel is like condensed rage, without the tap water of good behavior and self-restraint to thin out all the bad behavior. Luckily, Tarini seems to think it reads like a balanced account of a flawed person, but she also knows me personally, so maybe that helps.

“Stan” exists to be punished. He’s everything I hate about myself, which means he doesn’t deserve a happy ending. He deserves to keep pushing the rock up the mountain for eternity. But am I punishing him because, dramatically, it’s the right thing to do — poetic justice for all of his bad behavior — or because of meta-fictional masochism? Maybe I’ll never be able to answer that question…

I know Tarini wants Stan to have a happy ending because I did. I think she’s afraid of me digging into those dark feelings, that I’ll relapse into a roiling cauldron of rage and anxiety. After all, she’s one of the few who made it through Time Wasters and Debt Collection, and I think that experience made her see me in a different light. She’s seen me at my saddest, and she’s read me at my most cynically misanthropic.

So maybe I need an objective third party to determine Stan’s fate. Any volunteers?

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 31, 2011 2:08 PM