Ruth Thomas lives on Fort Niles, an island off the coast of Maine, where the main occupation is lobster-hunting. Raised mainly on Fort Niles by her father and her neighbor Mrs. Pommeroy, Ruth’s upbringing is punctuated with time spent in Delaware boarding school. Upon her graduation she returns to Fort Niles determined to start a life there, despite the apparent wishes of her mother’s family, the posh Ellises who only summer in Fort Niles.
I liked Eat Pray Love – not unreservedly, but a lot. I liked it when God told her to go back to bed, and I cried when the medicine man remembered her. (I don’t know why that made me cry but it did.) I thought Elizabeth Gilbert wrote most beautifully. When I started Stern Men, I truly expected not to like it, and I was surprised to find it engaging as well as well-written. I don’t know why I was surprised! I liked Eat Pray Love! In Stern Men, Elizabeth Gilbert creates vivid characters and then makes incisive observation after incisive observation about them.
As I got further and further through the book, though, I was increasingly bothered by the shortage of plot. So yeah, Ruth loves Mrs. Pommeroy; she finds her china-shop mother and the Ellis family difficult; she is attracted to Owney Wishnell of the Wishnell Lobster Dynasty. This went along, not exactly in circles, but it went around a little bit, interspersed with backstory. A lot of backstory happened, backstory on Ruth’s parents, on Fort Niles and its lobster wars with the nearby Courne Haven Island. It felt like adding texture to the story, but then suddenly at the end, every piece of backstory and every piece of normal story got resolved lickety-split in a tidy little bow.
Aggravating. There is a part of me that loves a happy, tidy ending. It’s a big part. I want everyone to live happily ever after. But most of me finds it frustrating. Life is not tidy! That’s why it’s interesting. I like me an ambiguous ending, that suggests the possibilities of happiness and pain – I always assume it’s happiness (that happy ending part of me!), but at least the writer’s not pretending pain’s not one of the options.
So here’s what I am wondering – what does an ending need to resolve? I don’t like a book that just stops, but I also don’t like it to take every single element of the plot and tie them all up together. How much resolution has to happen?