“WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COOK!?”: OR, AN EXPLORATION OF LOOSE ENDS AND PLOT HOLES IN FICTION
By James Wolanyk
Believe it or not, I am a keen browser of my own book’s reviews. This should come as no surprise to most of you, but my mentor, Andre Dubus, had a strict “reviews are for buyers” policy. I have broken his policy thoroughly and consistently. One of the most common complaints I’ve seen about the book is that events tend to occur somewhat nonsensically, and that story arcs are never completed in regards to telos (that is, the idea of something maturing to a natural conclusion as based on its life purpose, such as an acorn becoming a tree, or a tasty avocado becoming my dinner).
Let’s address that.
Now, from the onset, I should be clear in noting that I’m not writing this post to change anybody’s view of the book, nor to teach anybody how to fix plot holes in a novel. Whatever you interpret or feel as a result of its words are your own business, and while I hope you take away something positive, I’m not naive enough to think that the majority of the audience will be left in a state of ecstasy. I’m writing this primarily to explain why the book (and to some degree, its sequels) contain deliberate sabotages of expectations.
One of my biggest pet peeves in fantasy (no, let’s say literature in general) is that there’s surprisingly little reality within the genre. Yes, we have the odd exception that pulls back the wool from our eyes, but by and large, we’re confronted with a genre that acts as a reality escape more than an honest depiction of living beings (and their suffering).
So I decided to write something that defied those limitations.
When I watch the news, my heart breaks for those who are shelled in Ukraine. For those who are gassed and shot in Syria. For those who are taken from their families and enslaved in the heart of Africa. I was fortunate enough to grow up without violence as part of my life, but many others weren’t.
And now, having seen reviews that ask “why didn’t X get revenge on Y?”, I feel compelled to answer.
Reality seldom bends to one’s wishes. Even the most noble intentions of redemption are often led astray, but this is a fact easily forgotten in an age where media forms our earliest perceptions of the world. Narrative arcs have become our reality. The truth is that revenge is rarely granted to us mortals. People disappear in the wilderness without so much as a scrap of fabric to identify their presence. Cars crash and people suffer heart attacks and tsunamis overrun entire nations, all without consequences. This is the world we live in.
Yet when we engage with a novel, which I view as a window into somebody else’s reality more than mere entertainment, we expect to find neat and tidy resolutions to every problem ever faced by mankind. We expect people to get what they deserve. We expect wars to be wrapped up in a ribbon and sent home without paying the postage.
But for me, these stories reflect universal truths.
Children who see their parents murdered before their eyes will rarely, if ever, get a chance to take the life of their tormentor. Those who lose their family to genocide must live with that pain.
For me, a revenge tale (or any form of neatly concluded adventure) is an attempt to sidestep the earnest and pervasive pain in life. I don’t consider myself a pessimist (quite the opposite, in fact), but I acknowledge that suffering is present in the majority of our daily life. I wanted my writing to reflect that, and to reflect the countless masses who live without crisp resolution every day of their lives.
So here’s to honesty, to truth, and to a better world.
Love, peace, and joy, my friends