I make no apologies for this—if you read and finish my latest novel, Grist Mill Road, I very much hope to have reduced you to tears.
Why is that? What’s wrong with me?
Well, there are several reasons a writer might hope to make his reader cry: because the writer wants the world to share the burden of his pain, because the writer is a malevolent sadist, because the writer’s just that kind of douche-hat (or should that be tear jerk?). But none of these explain why I hope readers will cry at the end of my novel. (OK—the last one, just a little.) The main reason I want to reduce readers to tears at the end of Grist Mill Road is so they can experience the wonderful howl of catharsis—a howl I myself have experienced at the end of a deeply immersive reading experience.
I read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom soon after it came out and swallowed the novel whole, much in the way grizzlies inhale their lunchtime salmon. When I reached the ending (an ending I would describe as mostly happy), I found myself sheathed in my own tears for several hours. Curious as to why this was, I reread the ending several weeks later (the happy ending, remember) and, after experiencing the pleasant conclusion a second time, found myself no drier than I had been on the previous occasion.
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So why had a happy ending made me cry? I think it’s because this wonderful novel, all about the messiness of families, relationships, and modern life, ended with an affirmation of love—or at least that’s how I chose to interpret it. One of the strongest messages in Franzen’s Freedom, to my mind at least, is that the world is a confusing maelstrom of crap and pain and painful crap, but in the midst of this bewildering, spinning crap-globe, there is such a thing as love, and love is something to which we can all cling.
When I wrote Grist Mill Road, I wasn’t consciously thinking of Freedom as I sat down at my desk each day for four years. However, when it came to writing my own ending—which burst out of me 20 times quicker than most of my words ever do—I found myself engulfed by those same tears, crying half out of a sense of grief (my ending undeniably contains a sadness), but also out of a sense of joy, a sense that there is some immense happiness to be found in the world—a sense that, yes, love exists.
This is the cathartic experience I was aiming for, a catharsis I would love readers to experience.
Of course, I can’t promise you tears at bedtime. Before I sent Grist Mill Road to my publisher, I passed the manuscript to eight friends, and only two reported back (or at least admitted to) crying at the end. But then again, tears are a very personal watershed.
So please do get in touch with me if you read my novel and discover that the experience ends with a howl or a sob or even the slightest dampening of the eyes. It will make me feel enormously proud. Or, dare I say, happy.
Featured image: Alexei Zatevakhin/Shutterstock.com; Author Photo: Circe