Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What We Owe Our Readers: My Caveat

Having read over Chris and Matt's entries on the subject, I find that I agree in bulk with what they have said. Matt's notations about an ending summoned up all of the rage I felt at the end of the Sopranos, and the terrible disservice David Chase did to his viewers, and most importantly, himself. If, as he contended, he was disappointed with the American viewing public because everyone liked Tony Soprano, that was his own fault. And he should have taken his story back and had Tony killed, or put in jail, or something to show us that crime doesn't pay, or that sociopaths are bad, or whatever. I guarantee that, as potentially upset as some of his viewers may have been with a Tony Soprano assassination, everyone would have accepted it because it was a conclusion that was borne out of the narrative. I told you that to tell Matt this: Kelly Link did her ending better.

I wanted to add something to the big "Ditto, Guys" that I just laid down in the paragraph above. I think we also owe readers a point of view. I don't think every book has one, nor do I think every author does this, but in my own reading experience, the best authors, the books I most remembered, the ones that stick with you and become your favorite reads, all have a strongly dileneated point of view.

This need not be through the eyes of a character, either. All of Tom Robbins books are very obviously and intentionally written with the authorial point of view in the fore, so much so that I would contend a goodly number of his characters fall into the sock puppet category. Likewise, Stephen King, when he's good, has a strong point of view in his writing.

A number of the Texas Weird authors like Joe Lansdale, Howard Waldrop, and Neal Barrett, Jr., have very strong points of view; they are actually known for it. Sometimes it comes across as a sensibility in the writing. Usually it's the stuff that makes you look up from the book and shake your head and wonder how they ever thunk that up in the first place.

Donald Westlake, my favorite mystery writer, was very good at moving his point of view around from the main character to the supporting characters in ways that were significant and effortless all at once. Even though the vast majority of his work is set in the modern world, it's always a world that you have no idea about. His crime fiction is a dark and mean place. As a reader, it takes less than one chapter for Westlake to establish that you've gone through the looking glass.

This is not to say that I don't value narrative in a good story. But I read for two reasons: to educate myself or to entertain myself. I have found that the best reads do both at the same time. In non-fiction, it's always a bonus, as it makes what you are reading far more digestable. In fiction reading, the entertainment value usually comes in the form of the author's point of view.

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