Mr. Shivers Me Timbers

Over the course of a week or so I’m reading Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett, picking it up and reading a chapter here and there, and all the while I’m thinking, “I can’t wait to finish this up and get on to the Ian McDonald’s Desolation Road or China Mieville’s Iron Council or Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael.

Mr. Shivers was pretty good, but I could leave it alone and not miss it overly much. But then something wonderful happened.

It’s not often I’m surprised by the ending of a book. And by that I don’t mean I’m so smart that I always see what’s coming. I mean that many books are page turners through and through and then the ending disappoints.

Some of my beta readers can attest to that.

The last 40 pages of Mr. Shivers were a pleasure. Bennett drops just enough breadcrumbs that if you look close enough you can see what’s coming. By the time I was into the epilogue, I didn’t want the book to be over.

I remember reading in James Scott Bell’s book on plot that a mediocre ending can ruin an otherwise amazing novel, but an amazing ending can save an otherwise mediocre novel.

I’m not saying that Mr. Shivers was mediocre — there is some great prose in there — but the ending made the book for me. Part of it was the transformation of the protagonist, Connelly, and the other part was how his transformation was the precursor of things to come in the world toward the end of the Great Depression.

Also, where I was thinking I could take or leave Bennett’s future works, I’m now looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of The Company Man.

One other thing: Why don’t more novels include author interviews at the end. I absolutely loved that. Here’s a snippet from that interview about his using the idea of the Great Depression as his backdrop:

…while the story’s got some historical grounding to it, I don’t think I set the story in The Great Depression as much as I did the idea of The Great Depression. The historical details, really, are just details. They’re interesting and necessary, to a certain extent, but the bones of the backdrop, and maybe even the story itself, are already waiting in your head.

Those hobo symbols you see in the image at the top of the post are used in conjunction with the chapter titles. Good stuff.

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