WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Cannibal Hearts. If you have not read it and you want to, do not read this post. If you have already read it, or don’t plan on reading it, go on.
I will also be discussing the series finale of Burn Notice, and while I will not be saying exactly what happens, I’ll be giving clues. Semi-spoilers, if you will. If you’ve already seen the end of Burn Notice, read on. If you haven’t seen Burn Notice, you should, because it’s one of the most tightly plotted series in recent television history.
Is everyone clear on this? Here abide monsters. By continuing past this point you agree to accept all responsibility for what you read and will get absolutely no sympathy from anyone that I spoiled the end of my second book for you.
Toy does not fly. May contain nuts. Moving parts start automatically without warning. Not, under any circumstances, to be used as a flotation device.
Okay, then. I have received a number of complaints about the end of Cannibal Hearts. (On the plus side, however, not quite as many people hated it as hated the ending of Catskinner’s Book, so I’m improving.)
James, my narrator, comes home to find that his lover, Godiva, has left him. I hope that didn’t come as a complete shock to everyone, I did try to do some foreshadowing. In any event I knew it was the right ending, but I couldn’t quite articulate why. Tonight my roommate and I watched the end of Burn Notice, (Season 7, Episode 13) and I understood what I had been writing, and why.
Burn Notice is the story of Michael Weston, a spy who is “burned” by the CIA and declared unreliable, cut off from his government contacts, essentially left for dead. Over the course of seven seasons he works to investigate who burned him, and why, and how he can get reinstated. Obviously, I can’t recap the whole series in one blog post, but at the end he faces a choice of loyalties. (Actually the issue of divided loyalties in central to the entire story arc, and is explored in deep detail–it’s a wonderful lesson in repeating themes across scales.)
In the end, Michael chooses the way that I (and, I assume, most viewers) wanted him to choose. It’s a bittersweet ending in which much is lost, but we are left with the feeling that Michael did the right thing, or the closest to right thing that he had to choose from. It’s an ending the reaffirms the power of love and family.
Well, as Bob Dylan says, “That ain’t me, babe.”
That’s not the story I have to tell. The story that I have to tell is about the power of the individual to stand up against anyone and everyone. The ending of Cannibal Hearts is a happy ending–no, really, I mean it.
It’s a happy ending because James doesn’t need Godiva. He doesn’t need anybody. He and Catskinner are a sovereign nation. I couldn’t write a traditional happy ending where the good guy and the girl live happily ever after.
I think happily ever after is a cheat. I think that when you end with a slow heart shaped dissolve on the door of the honeymoon suite what you are really telling the audience is that neither of these people are complete in themselves and they need someone else.
Maybe that’s a good message to tell for society in general. I’m sure that people who need people are, as the song says, the luckiest people in the world. But they aren’t the only people in the world.
Some of us are complete in ourselves. And I think that maybe it’s a good idea for us to have a voice. James was hurt at the end of Cannibal Hearts, and if I did my job right my readers were hurt along with him. I cried when I wrote it.
But it didn’t end there. James didn’t die, in fact he’s alive and well in the epilogue and is alive and well in my new novel, The Worms Of Heaven. That’s my message, my Western Union moment. People come into our lives and they go out of it, and our life goes on. We’re not who we sleep with or who we share a house with. We will love and lose, and we will continue to live.
That’s my idea of a happy ending.