Life cheats. Life never writes the final chapter, and we are left to wonder why.
January 28, 2013
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.
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.
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.