Life cheats. Life never writes the final chapter, and we are left to wonder why.

Amelia Earhart: no one knows the final chapter of her life.
Amelia Earhart: no one knows the final chapter of her life.

I have heard it argued for as long as I’ve been writing.

Does art imitate life?

Or does life imitate art?

Now let me take that one step farther. Do novels and life have anything in common?

On the surface, they have a lot. Both novels and life have characters. Some get along, and some don’t. They have conflicts and disappointments and frustrations and numerous pages of grief and sadness.

A novel is all about love, hate, power, greed, jealousy, ambition, and redemption.

And so is life.

But that’s where it ends, and one primary difference raises its ugly head.

A novel has a final chapter, that last confrontation between good and evil where puzzles are solved, questions are answered, mysteries are resolved, people live happily ever after or go their separate ways, still resolute in their own decisions. Suspects are acquitted or shipped off to prison.

We know what happens, to whom it happens, and, most importantly, why it happened.

Life, unfortunately, is not always summed up at the end.

The Presidential motorcade on Elm in Dallas. The first bullet has already struck Kennedy.
The Presidential motorcade on Elm in Dallas. The first bullet has already struck Kennedy.

On Caleb and Linda Pirtle, we are presently running the serialization of John Crawley’s novel, The Man on the Grassy Knoll.  After almost fifty years, the case is still tainted with controversy and conspiracy theories. Did Lee Harvey pull the trigger?  Did someone fire the fatal shots from a manhole in the middle of the street? Was the hit ordered by Russia, by the CIA, by the mob? Who was the man on the grassy knoll, and did he ever exist? Crawley doesn’t know for sure. He has researched the assassination from every angle, and tries to wrap it all up in his novel, but it’s only fiction, only the figment of his imagination.

We still don’t know for sure.

Life likes to keep its secrets.

And that takes me back to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Was the murder ordered by Southerners intent on exacting their measure of revenge after a long and brutal Civil War? Or was he gunned down at the request of the Secretary of War who was angry because Lincoln wanted to unite the country again? The Secretary was demanding that the South be treated as vanquished foes. John Wilkes Booth, from all accounts, fired the shot, but was he really killed, or did he escape? There are historians in Granbury, Texas, who swear that Booth rode into town during the 1870s and tended bar under the name of St. John. But he drank a lot, quoted long passages of Shakespeare, said he had been an actor, performed one-man shows, and privately admitted to being Booth.

We still don’t know for sure.

Amelia Earhart was the sweetheart of the skies. But she vanished during a flight around the world, and no word was ever heard of her again. Explorers still search for traces of the ill-fated flight and occasionally think they have found some relic on some remote island.  But they come home disillusioned.

And we still don’t know for sure what happened to her.

POW-MIA flagChildren are missing. Their pictures are plastered on milk cartons. They walked down the street on day, and suddenly they don’t exist anymore.

A soldier didn’t come home from Vietnam.

A husband never comes home from work.

A high school junior walks into a classroom and pulls a pistol from his book bag and shoots as many as he can before someone shoots him.

A neighbor next door walks out into the backyard, sits beside the pool in a lawn chair, downs a jigger of bourbon, and places .38 caliber slug in his brain.

And we are left to wonder: Why? Why? Why?

And we never know why.

Life is a cruel and terrible author.

But life doesn’t write the final chapter.



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  • I really enjoyed reading this. Reminds me of an incident in a tiny town I lived in, where everyone knew each other…one big, happy family. One day a member of the community just disappeared (in the ’50s). Now, was it a REAL disappearance? Did he high-tail it over child support or something and “disappear himself?” Was he afraid of a bully/rival and took it on the lam? It has always been a mysterious event and those last two conjectures just don’t ring true. Real disappearance is how it seems. So Ozark-y. If I live long enough I will try to find out–better to let some people die off first before stirring stuff up. I have always been interested in the examples you gave above and have tried to keep current on any new developments. I always wanted to write an autobiography (and who cares about that?!!) but I wanted it to have a happy ending, a triumph! I don’t think that is gonna happen. I was a victim of REAL LIFE.

    • Our “real life” may be hard and sometimes tragic, but they mold us and shape our mind so we can tell stories that are much easier in the telling than they were in the living.

      • So true, and the cruel events make the good ones “seem” better. Or something. ;- D

  • Unsolved deaths or disappearances are the cruelest of all, leaving the grieving loved ones in life-long limbo, some unable to move forward.

    • The unknown will always be our greatest fear. I think that’s why we fear Alzheimer’s. It is living within the great abyss of the great unknown.

  • Not many things I read, be they blog posts, novels, poems or short stories, leave me with an “aha”. This did, Caleb. Specifically, “A novel has a final chapter…” and life does not. So true, and the people who remain are left to write their own version of the ending of a loved one’s life novel, but they never have all the character info. 80% of it is left in the databank of the mind that is gone. Thanks again for a wonderful post!

    • I never like to be left hanging. I want to know the end, be it good or bad. You have summed up my thought process when I walk away from every funeral. The great stories went unasked. And the end is not the ending I want to know.

  • One excellent and beautiful post, Caleb. I was just thinking about what if, say the mystery genre mimicked life? People would likely quit reading mysteries driven crazy by all those unanswered questions. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we read, because novels seek resolution and that feels a whole lot better than many of the lives of the readers who are pulling the books off the shelves..

    • Well said. Novels give us the resolution to a riddle that life seldom ever does.

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