Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Strange Endings

Thought I'd rerun this in honor of Lawrence Block's birthday, which was a few days ago. This blog entry is from June of 2011, so the book is no longer on sale... but still worth buying.

So, I finished rereading Lawrence Block's THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART on the Kindle, and it is *still* available for 99 cents until the 15th (Wednesday) (tomorrow) if anyone is interested. It's one of his earlier books, but heck - Matt Scudder first showed up in SINS OF THE FATHERS in the mid-70s, so it's not like you're getting a book by a beginner. The story is about a con man who gets released from prison and tries to go straight... when an older con man from his past comes to him with the con of the century. Oh, and there's a woman involved who is part of the con (this was a paperback original at the time that paperback originals usually had some sex scenes because we didn't have internet porn yet). And the mark is a clever but not always law abiding businessman. It's similar to THE STING... only it was written a few years earlier. One of the cool things about it is that you get into the lead character's motivations, wants and desires. You understand him. And then, as usual, things begin to go wrong and they must scramble to keep the con from falling apart and the three of them from going to jail. Not only well worth the 99 cents, it was well worth whatever I paid for it in paperback years ago.

Oh, and the Kindle version has some interesting author photos in the back - Block has his baby pictures and all kinds of fun stuff back there!
But one thing that's interesting about the story is the strange ending, and I'd like to talk about it, but it's the end of the book and so it's all spoilers! What I've decided to do is to put up a huge spoiler warning, and then to keep it vague and not mention character names. But even then, this is a book where guns are fired and people are killed and even mentioning that a character *survives* is a spoiler. So, if you want to read the book, don't read anything after the spoiler warning, okay? If you have already read the book, or don't plan on reading it; I'm going to discuss the ending after the spoiler warning... and how it's weird but still works.




Okay, I'm still going to be vague for those of you who may be reading this but still plan on buying the book. The hero and his partner live. Of course, he has two partners, and I'm not going to tell you who dies... Except I am going to tell you that the villain gets away at the end. WTF? How can you have a conclusion if the villain gets away? Well, here's what Block does - he has the villain get away in such a way that the hero and that surviving partner are unable to give chase and get revenge without putting themselves in danger. So they *can not* capture the villain - ain't possible. But to keep it from being a blah ending, the conflict is changed to which one of those two surviving partners is responsible for the whole thing going wrong. And that conflict is resolved... with a bit of violence. Oh, and before the violent resolution to that conflict, there is a great Act 3 series of suspense scenes as they try to escape any possible police pursuit due to the con going wrong. And it is during these suspense scenes that the conflict goes from "get the villain" to "who screwed up". Because there is so much action going on, you hardly notice the shift in conflict. And Block doesn't try to pull a con on the reader - we know that the conflict has changed - it's mentioned by one of the characters. And the interesting thing is, by shifting the conflict the book is able to have a happier ending than if they just went after the villain and killed him. That path would solve the past but not give us a future. I think Block came up with a bold and inventive ending that would not have been the first thing any writer would think of... and I think we should be open to the strange story possibilities instead of just taking the path of least resistence. We should consider the strange ending, and strange middle, and strange beginning.

I rewatched THE THIRD MAN a couple of nights ago, and that has a strange ending, too - there is a strong romantic subplot in the film between Joseph Cotten's Holly Martins character and Valli's Anna Schmidt character, and we are sure that the two will hook up at the end... but they don't. She just walks right past him, ignoring him. The story is kind of a coming of age movie for an adult, and Martins learns that many of the things he thought were true are lies, many of the people and institutions he trusted were bullshit, and he falls in love for the first time... and gets his heart broken. The whole danged film is filled with broken hearts. But you figure that he will get the girl in the end, and he doesn't. I just imagine Martins thinking about her every day for the rest of his life... this big unresolved conflict in his life that can never be resolved.

And that's also what I think happens to the lead in LONG GREEN HEART - he spends the rest of his life haunted by that villain who is out there, somewhere. Not a day goes by that he doesn't think about that big unresolved conflict that can never be resolved. He just has to live with it. That's not the way to end a big summer movie... except the first SPIDER-MAN has a heart break ending. So I think in the right situation that strange ending is the best one.

- Bill

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