One of the first books I was assigned to teach my senior English class was The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini. A fantastic–if fatally circular–book, it not only allowed students to talk about racism and conservatism without feeling threatened, it also not so subtly criticized the way Americans talk about stories. In America, it’s a crime to give away the ending while in Afghanistan, the ending is the only thing that matters. If it’s not a good ending, what is the point of the story?
Some Kind of Monster by Tim Waggoner has such a good ending that the last few pages would have been worth reading a few hundred more to get to.
Told in episodes throughout the course of Angie’s life, the novella recounts numerous, studpid ways that Angie’s family have died, and the anger builds. There must be something about death beyond a heart stopping, otherwise, what’s the point?
On a long search for meaning, she seeks out different supernatural phenomena to determine the cause. She encounters familiar tropes made new. One of my favorites is the urban legend that people thinking about jumping from a bridge in the middle of the night can hear the cry of a baby, somehow urging them to jump, but Angie isn’t afraid of death; she’s angry at it. When she discovers the true source of the crying, a supernatural bird that mimics the sounds, she’s almost disappointed, even though it is in fact magic. Other familiar tropes include The Devil’s House and a werewolf, whose full-moon eyes are full of souls, but she’s still nonplussed. True, they are magical creatures. But where is the ultimate source of death?
The real strength of the novella is the development of Angie. The ways in which she loses loved ones to the unexpected, or incidental, is somehow far more terrifying than the supernatural monsters she encounters. Waggoner plays on this juxtaposition to great effect, especially when her fiance is murdered by a crazy woman in a diner. Wrong place. Wrong time. The horror there, or even in the funeral home in the beginning of the novella, feels more complete and vividly rendered than the real baddies in the book.
Determined to meet the Great Darkness, Angie forges on, stronger because of the parts of her heart that have been broken.
In the end…well, I’m writing for an American audience, aren’t I? All I can tell you is, in the words of Khaled Housseini, “the ending is everything.”