from Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai

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What is this sucker punch, love, that ruins us so completely? And can you say it in a full sentence? P 36

This week I am thinking about endings. I took a workshop with Rebecca on Tuesday, and at the risk of sounding like a wide-eyed actress on an infomercial— it changed my life.

When people ask me about a book I’ve read recently I often conjure up an image of the beginning or maybe a scene that spoke to me in the middle. I don’t often think about the way a book ends, those closing lines that signal the finis. Maybe because it is the end, so finite; the white space after the last word is all that is left. How can you be anything but sad when you close a book? Still, endings can be satisfying or leave you wanting more. Some are wrapped up in a neat bow and others make you contemplate what happens next. Yet, just as the beginning of a book isn’t the empirical start of anything, the story isn’t necessarily over when you reach the last page. The lives of the characters continue, it’s just your relationship with them has been broken. You aren’t privvy to anything more than what the author chose to share with you.

I guess that’s why I have such a hard time analyzing the end of a novel. When Rebecca asked us to think of one, the only title my brain could supply was The Life and Death of Sophie Stark–– if I needed a reminder of the ending it was right there in the title. I remember being sad, but pleased that the book continued past her demise to allow us more time with the people who loved her best.

Maybe that’s why we don’t talk about endings: doing so often spoils the experience for someone who hasn’t watched the movie or read that book. But in talking about them in general there is a rhythm and a tempo for the last few sentences of a book. Rebecca said she tries to slow down her pacing or tap out the beats. When she said this I thought about the firework finale I wait for every year. The way it thuds and booms so you can feel it in your chest. The way you can still see the ghostlike images in the sky after they have stopped. The way we all let out our collective breath when the thundering has ceased and the pinwheels stop emerging.

Tonight I’ll go and watch them one more time. But this evening I’ll be by myself which may be a first for me. T is at a dance and M is off having an adventure. This weekend being alone has its advantages. I can read or watch movies and no one will ask me to turn off the light. I could stay up all night writing if I wanted. I feel a spark of something there and I want to catch it before it dashes away. My hours with Rebecca were informative and inspiration—I wasn’t kidding about it being life changing. Sitting in a room with other writers, listening to her describe her process provided me with another way back into my story. I feel like I have a handle on the plot and what will happen after the climax. I want to set it up in such a way that the readers have a chance to gradually say goodbye to my characters, and for me to feel okay about leaving them as well. Maybe working in words, focusing on the abstract of the page, will help me wrap my brain around the actual goodbyes that will be happening soon. Less than a month and T will be off at school. But I’m going to look at that as a beginning rather than an ending. It feels like a new chapter for all of us.

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