The Last Page, a Deconstruction
As a writer, I painstakingly extract words from my selfish and lazy brain so that each sentence, each clause, even each pithy phrase, will sound absolutely perfect. After all, words, specifically the relationships between words who live next door to each other, are That important. As well they should be–I’m a Writer.
As a reader, that sounds like a bunch of hogwash I just found on the bottom of my shoe. Goddamnit! I hate it when I step on *@!&.
I mean, what does it really matter? What are all those words for anyway? 700 pages of Crime & Punishment. 1500 pages of War & Peace. And please do not mention the name Howard Roark to me. I might kill myself AGAIN. Who is it all for? Does the author think we will really read what they’ve written, line by line, word for word? And, if we are so bored as to read 40 pages of nonsense from the most gifted writer of all time, does anyone think we will actually remember it?
Personally, I read the last page first and go from there.
People usually give me the “weird girl in the corner” look when I admit to reading last pages first, but I do. And I admit to it because I have a theory that a well-written story is good even when you know what happens in the end. Isn’t that why we continue to watch Casablanca even though we know how it ends? Or why classic ESPN exists? Or why seeing the Season Finale of any show will make you want to go back and watch it again, from the beginning?
No one listens to a CD in the order it was recorded. Right? The order means something to the artist because it’s their storyline, but it doesn’t mean diddly squat to us. It’s perfectly acceptable to skip song 3, because the lyrics aren’t as good as song 4, or maybe we’re not in the mood for track 1 that day. It was overplayed on the radio before the CD was ever released. Admit it; if you could pop in a CD and skip to the Bonus Track at the end, you’d do it.
It’s actually more meaningful to watch Rachel walk into that coffee shop in her wedding dress and see Ross pour the sweet-n-low in her coffee if we already know that these two unlikely suspects will not just weave in and out of love over the next decade, but will end standing, holding hands, and ride into the sunset to live happily ever after. Well, that might be another storyline, but you get the point.
So, the next time you read a book, try it my way:
1. Read the last page. If it doesn’t make you wonder why “that” happened, you should put it back down and forget about it. If it does make you wonder why “that” happened…
2. Skim the first 50 or so pages. Those are the ones the writer had to get exactly right for anyone in the publishing world to look at it, which mean they suck the hardest.
3. Somewhere around page 64, the story will start to get good. The writer has now lost all ability to control their characters. People begin to say things they wish they hadn’t. Parents begin to lose their temper. Someone might jump off a bridge and someone else might let them. At this point, you should cancel all appointments and plan to not put the book down. Continue to read, but skip the dialogue. It doesn’t matter and you won’t remember it.
4. Between 24 hours and 24 days later, you’ll surface from the story that has now become your sole existence and realize that Jane isn’t really Dick’s wife because Jane doesn’t exist. For that matter, neither does Dick. It’s possible that Spot might still exist; you’re not sure, so you ask the mailman, who gives you the same look my mom gave me when I asked what was in the clam chowder that made it taste so good.
5. After you pee and dose your stinky ass in some floral body spray, you can savor the last chapter, right down to the 3 or 4 sentences on the last page that you started with. “Right,” you say to yourself. (You now talk out loud because, well, your friends and family, including the hot delivery guy, have all stopped calling.) “I remember this. This is why I read the book in the first place. This is the good part, the even better part, now that I’ve read the novel.”
Trust me: writers, who aren’t geniuses, save the best sentences for last. They don’t realize they’re doing it, which is why it’s so good. Perhaps they’ve run out of steam; more likely, they’ve long ago sat back and allowed the story to play out as it must. For there are no new stories; thus, no new endings. At this point, the author is only a medium, the means to an end, the one who holds the Quill. Not unlike our parents, when we were 5-years-old and learning to ride without training wheels, with their efficient smiles and clinched fists, waiting for us to circle around. Not unlike us, 30 years later, when our children turn into the driveway, sighing, contented to be back in the familiarity of a task that’s at its end.