Sunday, April 11, 2010

Joshua's Guesses

In this Pulitzer journey, Joshua, my brother-in-arms, is currently reading the novel that I absolutely despised: Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons. So far, he has absolutely despised it as well—equally, if not more than me. He is 23 chapters in and he keeps telling me, "Drew, I just want to give up on this one all together, it's so bad." But like a good friend, I keep pressing him on, exclaiming, "Finish the race that is set before you!"

In order to encourage him to finish the novel, I informed that there is a scene in the novel that is so puzzling, so confounding, that it makes the the hardship of reading the book more satisfying. All along, Tarkington makes the story so obnoxiously predictable that it's actually humiliating for well-read English majors like Joshua and myself ("Booth—we understand symbolism! You don't have to explain everything and beat us over the head with it!"). However, there is one scene in the second to last chapter of the book that completely takes the reader by surprise, and completely confounds the reader.

For those of you who haven't read the book, one of the characters, Mr. Morgan, for whatever reason, consults a psychic, participates in a seance, and communicates with the ghost of a woman whose identity is never revealed (though we are to assume the ghost is that of his deceased love interest). This scene is so completely puzzling, on so many levels. For one thing, it sticks out like a sore thumb, like a black sheep, like blue text on a green screen—it doesn't blend in with the rest of the novel at all! And, to be honest, this might have been intentional on Tarkington's part—perhaps he knew that this book was so predictable, dry, and dull that it would lull its readers to sleep, so he threw in this crazy, wacky scene just to mix things up a bit. I don't know.

Joshua, however, is not one for surprises (perhaps this is why he informed me that he bought me which two Pulitzer first editions for my birthday about a month before my birthday came); he really doesn't enjoy knowing about a scene that's going to slap him in the face, but not knowing what it is. And though I refuse to tell him what happens, he keeps making guesses. Collected here is just a sample of some of these shots in the dark:

"Drew, please tell me what happens at the end of this book."
"I can't, Joshua... But you'll know it when you see it."
  • Does he go to Chicago?
  • Does he eat a Chicago-style hot dog?
  • Does he go to a White Sox game and watch them throw the World Series?
  • Does he run over Georgie with his car?
  • Is he in a suitcase on the luggage rack of that car that runs Georgie over?
  • Does he eat fried chicken at his kitchen table, then gaze listlessly out the window and smile mysteriously?
And, sadly, as ridiculous as some of these guesses are, he really isn't that far off from the truth.

1 comment:

  1. Argh. :-) 50% of the time I try to leave you a comment, the site eats it and I have to start over again (in case it's not obvious, that's happened this time). Do you think it's because I'm trying to post using my Wordpress name?

    Well, sadly, I don't think I can recall all of the message I'd written, so here's the shortened form. I agree that the scene is odd, but think I've guessed Booth's purpose. Booth essentially (and wrongly) finds Georgie a bit irritating but likable, but thinks Morgan has behaved in ungentlemanly fashion and must atone. But he's written Morgan to be such a reasonable character that there's no way to have him simply decide to apologize to Georgie and make peace (after all, what does he really have to apologize for?). So the seance is a shortcut allowing him to get Morgan suddenly and oddly contrite in order to get an ending. Does this work, or am I trying to rationalize something inherently unreasonable?