By December 18, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Can You Give Away an Ending That’s Not There?

(Some books are ruined if you know the ending. I personally feel you’ll be more likely to have a positive experience with this book if you do know the ending, so I’m going to reveal it. If you don’t believe me, stop here.)

 

You think it’s detective fiction, but it’s not. Sure, the hero of The Jerusalem File is a security expert and is doing a favor for a friend, trailing the friend’s wife and her so-called cousin, but when he finally has a chance to trap them, he turns away and lets them go. As for his investigations, they lead him nowhere. No major clues are ever found. There are no revelations. His friend fires him.

  Okay, since it’s not detective fiction, then maybe it’s a noir. The hero certainly becomes morally complicated with the femme fatale. She’s intriguing, obviously lying, sensual and reckless and fascinating, and the sixty-year-old hero is stumbling over himself in deceptions of his own to continue with his investigations. Then the wife’s lover is killed, and she turns to the hero to find his killer. Now he’s gone from working for the husband to working for the wife, and soon he’s not even trying to find the truth anymore, he’s working to sustain a flickering chance of a relationship between himself and the wayward Deborah Kaye.

Well, if you think there’s going to be an ending, you’ve got another think coming. The hero only becomes more and more morally compromised. By the last chapter he’s up to his neck in a deadly erotic quagmire of a triangle, and… and… and… well, that’s it – he remains there as the novel closes.

The Jerusalem File by Joel Stone is an elegant little piece, honestly composed, simple in its reach and yet highly sensitive and complex in its approach, a “slice of life” novel that appears to fall into multiple genres while eluding all of them.

At first the ending – or lack of an ending – utterly annoyed me. I kept waiting for a pay-off that never happened. I read the last sentence. Where’s the surprise? Where’s the trick of pulling all the threads together at once? No tricks, no surprises, no nifty ending, just a fadeout. Now, a day later, I’m no longer quite so disappointed, more fascinated at Stone’s being such a rule-breaker, setting up expectations and then flying in the face of them, again and again, while setting the entire thing in Jerusalem, where life insurance comes with a small extra charge for terrorism.

That I’m still thinking about this book, puzzling over the ending, trying to see exactly what the book was and not what it wasn’t, convinces me it would make a jim-dandy book for a book club discussion, particularly for a reading group interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Jerusalem is practically living, breathing character in the novel, fascinating and timeless and dangerous, Deborah Kaye is properly alluring, and Stone’s thoughts on terrorism, sprinkled throughout, are sane, informed, and compassionate.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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