Releasing Expectations

One of the more salient ways in which postmodernism ticks off readers is by subverting or disappointment traditional, perhaps, cherished expectations.  (Diana, you may not want to skim this next example).  Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, for instance, builds up a tangled story, with many parallel storylines and budding characters and revealing discoveries in the classic pulp detective novel method only to eventual disappoint any hope of a grand, culminating ending where pieces fit and characters realize their vast interconnectedness.  It has been argued and can be defensibly surmised that Pynchon’s refutation of a clean ending was his refutation of life’s coherence, but then of course, it is just a fun little detective story, isn’t it?  Prof. Sample brought up Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones, and though not exactly postmodern in that it is enjoyable and accessible to many readers (just a dig), it too complicates the story by giving us the name of the young narrator’s killer, even delivers him his fate rather early, and also shows us the poor dead girl in her own piece of heaven.  So why do we keep reading?  Sebold moves outside the CIS model by not having the novel end with some climatic discovery of evidence or court room scene–instead the novel takes an unexpected turn, giving our possible expectations the tound-about, and moves into the various stories of a town’s inhabitants, many of whom have forgotten the narraror spying down on them from above, for the latter half of the novel.  What’s a reader to do?  I used to love reading the last line of a book, then starting at the beginning, hoping that whatever I garnered from that last sentence would help me perceive some foreshadowing hidden early on (so that I wouldn’t have to read it twice and still get the ‘full’ effect).  This all fit into my habit of delivering foregone conclusions before they happened with an air of certainty–a tick visible in my willingness to save people the hassle by finishing their sentences for them.  With The People of Paper, I thought I was being quite prescient in realizing that Saturn was Salvador and that he was making up for a personal loss by inflicting unfortunate circumstances on other characters.  I first thought this with Frederico’s brilliant line that ‘something other than [his] pee had driven [Merced] away’.  So I cherish this nugget, thinking myself smarter than the author, ahead of the story, la dee da dee da, a precocious snap sifting through clues to an answer he knows…well, perhaps we as English majors all know the feeling.   But Plascencia, like Pynchon and Sebold, seems to relish denying our expectations and breaking molds (as what writer worth his weight shouldn’t?).  We all noted how the back of the book made it sound that we’d discover who Saturn was late in the book, instead of within the first fifty or seventy pages.  Now that everything seems to be out the open, all authorial tricks and maneuvers exposed, well, what grand conclusion might we see coming?  The storyline I had set myself to figuring out is over and done with and I wasn’t even halfway through.  Why, a character has already met Salvador.  Also, if the EMF had one, we wouldn’t be reading the novel besides.  There was no ‘You’re not so powerful’ anywhere near the front of the book.  There is a great tragedy in reading a book about a character who fights the author from making his life a tragedy and not a romance, especially when we know he’ll lose that fight in the end.  That bastard Salvador for ruining his life, taking his wife with her flute-ish sneezes and whatever other quirks Frederico found enchanting.  We’re seeing a resemblence between poor Lil’ Merced and Liz, and we know what Salvador would like to happen to Liz.  Must I keep reading why that frowsy, selfish prick does that cute, lime-loving sweetheart in?  I think I’ll take up my own fight against Salvador.  If I win, maybe we’ll all have an ending that meets our expectations, reaffirms good’s dominion over evil, fate’s employance of malleable chance and chaos, and leaves us warm in spite of these nights embraced in winter’s chill.  A story of helplessly lost love does not seem to be all that medicinal considering the weather these days (ah, but who wants tragedy to cloud the eyes of spring?).  Whatever happens, I hope Salvador doesn’t ruin the ending of his book for all of us (Frederico, Lil Merced, Smiley, 53, and me) to prove a pont to a carousing harlot who broke his heart.  I get enough of that from that asshole Pynchon.

Anyway, I’m on the highway to hell, guys! Heading to AC/DC in like ten minutes!!! Whoop WHOOP!!!!!


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2 thoughts on “Releasing Expectations”


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    hereticsnail says:

    “I used to love reading the last line of a book, then starting at the beginning, hoping that whatever I garnered from that last sentence would help me perceive some foreshadowing hidden early on (so that I wouldn’t have to read it twice and still get the ‘full’ effect). ”

    I do that too!  That strategy doesn’t help me at all in this class.


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    Professor Sample says:

    Haha, I’m glad the books I’ve chosen have confounded your “last line” reading strategy. Casey raises many good points: if the “twist” of People of Paper comes so early (Saturn is Salvador, the author), then why keep reading? What else is the point? Where can the book go from there? Perhaps Plascencia is making a metacomment about metafiction, about its ubiquity in today’s culture. And I wonder if Plascencia is undercutting his own metacommentary (intentionally or not) as the novel goes on…

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