The Pay Off — Don’t Biff It

I’ve talked about this in the context of Mass Effect 3 and the ultimate massive failure of what should have been the greatest video game to date, but I have to bring it up again.  I don’t tend to review books because if I’ve read a book to the end it means I liked it, and then I get accused of just saying nice things, and if I don’t like a book I stop reading.  I only have so many years of life left so I don’t spend time on books I don’t like.  I also offer professional courtesy to my fellow writers.  That being said I’m going to talk about a book I recently finished.  My little opinion will have no effect on Michael Chabon, the man won a Pulitzer, and perhaps it’s impertinent for me to even comment, but hey, I’ll risk it.

Years ago I read THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY, and found the early history of the comic book industry fascinating, but I walked away from that book feeling deeply unsatisfied.  The fantastic element in the book was the golem, and I kept reading and reading and reading waiting for the golem to play some important role in the climax of the book.  But it didn’t.  I’m sorry, but you can’t hang a golem over the mantel and not shoot it, or let it stomp, or something.

I was intrigued by the premises of the YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION so I downloaded it onto my IPad and started reading.  First off I love police procedurals.  I’ve read all the 87th Precinct books.  The world that Chabon postulates was fascinating, alternate history at it’s very best.  And the writing.  It was sublime, sheer poetry.  If I lived to be two hundred I would never be able to write that beautifully.  But —

It ended with a whimper.  Yes, you learn the identity of the murder, but for me it had little emotional impact, and to the larger questions our protagonist accomplished nothing, and most of the questions remained unanswered.  What was going to happen to the Jews of Sitka?  Would Landsman and his wife get back together?  What about his partner and his family, would they be allowed to stay or would they have to immigrate?  Once again I was left with this deep sense of dissatisfaction.  Now I understand that a policeman in Alaska wasn’t going to solve the international problem, but I needed some sense of closure, a sense that the hero had accomplished something.

All of which intensifies my belief that the end is paramount.  It’s not enough to “give people a great ride” and hope they’ll forgive you for a terrible ending.  I think most readers/viewers/players won’t forgive you.  What’s likely to happen is that they won’t come back.  I don’t watch J.J. Abrams shows any longer because of Lost, I won’t buy another Bioware game until I’ve read a lot of reviews from players, and despite the beautiful prose it will likely be a long time before I buy another Chabon novel.

6 Responses to The Pay Off — Don’t Biff It

  • Rebecca Hewett says:

    You’re not the only one who had that reaction to THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY. Both my co-worker (who lent me the book) and I kept asking each other, “What about the Golem?” We even kept trying to work out what possible symbolism it had in relation to the ending of the book and came up with squat. Given what I know about the history and legend of the Golem, I was waiting for it to show up when things started going terribly wrong and its destruction to have something to do with the the book’s/character’s resolution. I’ve been wanting to pick up the Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but maybe not now. Thanks for the input.

  • S.C. Butler says:

    My experience with Chabon exactly. If only I could write like that on a sentence level! And boy am I happy that I don’t write like that for a full narrative.

    Nice update on the website. I like it.

  • Matt says:

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been doing a little research on this. And he actually ordered me lunch due to the fact that I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to talk about this subject here on your blog.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    You’re welcome, Matt. What did have you have for lunch? I’m just back from an Xmas party at the barn, and it was just finger food which makes me always feel like I haven’t eaten so I’m hungry and curious.

    You might also point your colleague toward some of my earlier posts about happy endings, and conclusions. It was the monumentally crappy ending of Mass Effect 3 that set me off on this analysis.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Thanks, Sam, I like the new look too. Just clean and simple and easy to navigate. And I’m away from the hated Joomla which was not user friendly.

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