I just finished reading Blind Voices by Tom Reamy. Published after Reamy's death, this first (and only) novel has a lot of wonderful things going on and a cast of colorful characters. While the book was captivating and each scene compelled me on, I must admit I was rather disappointed when, toward the end of the novel, the villian, Haverstock, lapses into a melancholic musing that practically recaps his life history. Isn't this exactly how -not- to clear up messy details at the end of a book?
(The setting: some dank villian hideout in a reasonably central location.)
Good Guy: Well, Bill, why don't you waste some precious time and gloat about how incredibly attractive, er, intelligent you are.
Bad Guy: You know, Phil, that's a great idea. ... Did I ever tell you about the time -- ?
Ending, of course, with the G.G. triumphant over a whimpering B.G.
I suppose I should be happy that the ultimate ending did not depend on this stall to save the day, but I still gritted my teeth throughout the entire scene in Haverstock's caravan. I found the ending ultimately unsatisfying, but appropriate for the story told.
In some respects, it seems as though the rather open ending was designed to leave room for a sequel, but since this was written in the '70s and not yesterday, I have to give Reamy the benefit of the doubt that his decision to end where he did was a conscious one. Yes, several storylines went unresolved (Evie's relationship with Angel being revealed to the parents, the town reaction to Harold's murder, & whatever happened to poor old Kelsey out in the gin?), but the story of Haverstock's Traveling Curiosus and Wonder Show was mostly resolved (since Kelsey probably met an untimely end -- but who knows? Maybe he would have made a comeback if Reamy hadn't suffered a heart attack at his typewriter when he did.)
I suppose, then, the moral of this story is not that a writer must resolve every single issue raised by his or her novel, but that the story must end a) somewhere b) before you reach a state of t.m.i.* and c) before the reader falls asleep from boredom. By ending it where he did, Reamy left the reader wanting more, but not so much that her head started to spin from confusion. So, this, I'm thinking, is a good thing.
[* too much information. you know, like when someone tells you way more than you need to know in order to make clear a point that wasn't that muddy to begin with -- like now.]
Another thing: I found that immediately upon the introduction of Angel, the Magic Boy, I was reminded of Arturo in Dunn's Geek Love. Whether it was the fanfare surrounding each who, as the star of the show, brought in the biggest crowd or the first letters of their names, I didn't really know until I reached the passage where Haverstock, in his windy villian speech, discusses his experiments in biology and genetics that resulted in his fathering four children.
Ah hah! There's the connection: both novels touch upon the fears that science raises in humanity. Haverstock uses the gift and his knowledge of biology in order to alter the bodies of his children-to -be; the mutations in Dunn's novel are the result of chemical experimentation. Despite these differences, each touches on the same idea: the danger in intervering with nature's design.
In each case, these experiments result in disaster, whether via genetic freaks or death, of the freaks or of those in their way. This, then, extends to the appeal of the sideshow carnivals touched on in each of these novels -- the public likes to view the results of such mutation, but most of the "hayseeds" know enough to stay as far away as possible less they invite some higher power's vengance. Luckily, there will always be one or two characters brave, or fool-hardy, enough to breech the line between the freaks and the regular people so that stories such as these can exist.
The idea of the circus, on the other hand, touches a different part of the human psyche - the capacity for wonder at the marvels of the human body. Unlike a carnival, which depends on a grotesque fascination with nature's mistakes to bring in the cash flow, the circus, for the most part, presents a show focused on human talents, such as those of tightrope walkers, acrobats, and sword swallowers. While a big part of the circus is the ballyhoo that surrounds the show, casting question of which acts are real and which are false (such as Barnum's fabled white elephant), the circus attendee is guarenteed of seeing at least one act so stupendous that it transcends the normal threshold of human achievement.
The key difference is not that the lines of normalcy and the ordinary appear to be crossed, but that they are, and not by "freaks" persay, but by seemingly everyday people who just so happen to be supremely talented.
There is no magic in seeing a deformed human being in a carnival setting, only a dark sort of distate in the belly of the beholder. The circus, however, is full of magical occurences: children who walk on the sky, women with limbs of rubber, and cotton candy that melts in the mouth. A freak is a freak is a freak, but part of the magic of the circus performer is the internal knowledge that you could pass a circus performer on the street and never be any the wiser. A performer, in reverse of the child who dreams of running away to the circus, can leave the circus for another life, if he or she so chooses. The freak cannot.
The Calliope Circus, then, is a blend of the carnival and the circus. The Calliope has both talented performers and "run-of-the-mill" freaks -- perhaps the Calliope freaks weren't freaky enough for the carnival. Perhaps the challenge of this setting as the home of my novel-to-be is negotiating the balance between dark and light, the gay and the grotesque? My vision is of Daniel floundering in these same waters and struggling with the beauty and the beast that resides in each of us. Sure, the coming of age story has been done and overdone to death, but the theme has existed for all time: the crossing of the threshold and the awakening of consciousness. So why not? I won't be the last one to try it.
In a chat with the Writing of Popular Fiction program this week, the moderator of one of the chats, Victoria Thompson wote something that I've decided to adopt, as a sort of inspirational quote: "Publishers want something completely new and different that's just like everything else." What I could I possibly say to that, but "You're on!"