No Redeeming Quality

I just finished reading One Day (by David Nicholls) for an online book club I'm trying to participate in. I don't, as a rule, read a ton of "literature" - I guess I lean more toward liking "pulp" fiction. It's not that I don't want to think deep thoughts or have my horizons expanded (and really, if these are "literature", they're not doing that anyway) - it's more that I like there to be a plot. I like my books to take me on a journey from beginning to end rather than being 200+ pages of mindless rambling with pieces of dialog that might morph into a plot if they were given more time and effort to develop. But more than that, I want my books to leave me satisfied at the end. This doesn't necessitate a happy ending, but it does necessitate a conclusion rather than a simple cessation of writing.

And that had me thinking back at the books that I've enjoyed in the past little while, as well as those that I haven't, wondering what was missing - what is it that separates one from the other. At the end of the day, most plots circle around someone finding something, be it love or a friend or the solution to a mystery or some mythical something or other or just simply themselves. And when what was lost is found, we get a glimpse of redemption. And that's what has been missing in so many of these books termed "literature".

At the end of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, no one is better off than they were at the start. No one has found anything or solved anything or even come to a better understanding of anything. It's as if we spent years in the lives of these characters and watched them wallow around with their problems, making a little headway then losing more ground, over and over again and when all is said and done, they're still wallowing around in their muck with nothing to show for anything other than a few more wrinkles on their faces.

One Day is very much the same. You follow these people for decades watching them as they make messes of their lives and the lives of others. Seeing them make choices that they come to regret and yet, they don't learn, they don't grow. Then, at almost the end, it looks as if possibly redemption will be creeping toward them on the horizon and the author snatches it away and sends everyone spiraling back into a whirl of misery, with the overwhelming feeling being that there is no point to trying because redemption is something you only find in books.

I think back on the books that shaped my childhood - The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Tower of Geburah, Go to the Room of the Eyes, The City Under the Back Steps, The Mummy Market, The Westing Game, The Box Car Children, Trixie Belden, Hildy and the Cuckoo Clock, Anne of Green Gables, Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, and on and on and all of them - even the more commercialized serials (i.e. Trixie Belden and Box Car Children) all still had that element of redemption. Even the throw aways I read today (e.g. stuff by Nora Roberts or Brad Thor) that will never be considered "literature" by any audience manages to work in the idea that what was wrong must be righted - even if it doesn't necessarily make for a happy ending.

I can't help but wonder if this lack of redemption in the writing that is considered "high brow literature" isn't the product of a general sense that redemption has no place in our society any longer. And I wonder if anyone else sees how empty and hopeless that makes these novels...and how empty and hopeless that leaves our world.


Lynellen said...

were these ponderings the result of a discussion question at the end of the book?

beth said...

No, no they weren't. This one, actually, didn't seem to have them. Go figure :)