The “Shock” Is, We’re With Janice?

I have been working my way through The Winds of War novel. I’m now about 1,035 pages through it, so I’m almost to the end. On the horizon, though, is its sequel: War and Remembrance (which was a Christmas present).

Reading the likes of those is one way I “relax” – yes, seriously – away from my own writing. At 1,361 pages, Remembrance is also even longer than Winds. Hmm. Between the last part of Winds and then Remembrance afterwards … uh, see you in about, oh, three years or so:

"War and Remembrance." [Photo by me, 2015.]
“War and Remembrance.” [Photo by me, 2015.]

Just exaggerating. Although perhaps only a bit. 😉

In the best books, the ending often comes as a shock. Not just because of that one last twist in the tale, but because you have been so absorbed in their world, that coming back to the harsh light of reality is a jolt.

That quote comes from Hodder’s “postscript” page that I noticed appears after Remembrance’s story concludes. Hodder published this edition of War and Remembrance, as well as the first volume, The Winds of War.

There’s lots that makes sense in that observation. As readers, we want to be absorbed in what we read. Separately, as authors, we desperately hope we can manage to absorb our readers. (As you know, I’m obsessed by you. Any author who claims he doesn’t care about his readers, well, he’s not, in my opinion, worth reading.)

However, the ending can’t really be too great a surprise when that notion is applied to Remembrance. After all, the Allies won the war. We know at least that much before we ever set eyes on “Page 1.”

[Spoilers follow.]

The only “shock” I feel about the conclusion of Winds is something of a letdown that author Herman Wouk introduces the Pearl Harbor attack through the eyes of Janice Henry – she’s Pug Henry’s daughter-in-law, married to his aircraft carrier Enterprise pilot son, Warren. I’ve just gotten there.

USS Enterprise (CV-6) in Puget Sound, September 1945. Official U.S. Navy photo.
USS Enterprise (CV-6) in Puget Sound, September 1945. Official U.S. Navy photo. From Wikipedia.

The chapter is missing something. It opens with Natalie and Aaron in Rome. They’ve decided after a party at the Japanese embassy not to join a smuggling ship full of desperate (other) Jews trying to reach British-controlled Palestine.

Abruptly – separated by the obligatory blank line – we’re transported around the world to Janice in Hawaii. We haven’t seen Janice in nearly two hundred pages. In any case we’re in Hawaii, and there’s not much left of the book, so naturally we know what must be about to happen.

She’s bored and unhappy. We’re in her head as she’s reflecting at length upon being a 23 year old Navy wife, coping with new motherhood, and sharing personal foibles such as how much she loves sex with Warren, but it’s too rare and it’s so frustrating he’s no longer a dashing guy but has become just another Navy cog. She’s even thinking divorce. And there’s lots more: a blizzard of new information about her is thrown at us merely in a few pages.

Suddenly, Janice is “front and center.” Wait. What? This being historical fiction, the expected follows: Japanese planes appear overhead and are sinking U.S. battleships.

In this often so intimate, incredible novel, which straddles much of the globe, contains innumerable characters of a variety of nationalities and backgrounds, and borders on biblical length, Janice was a decidedly minor figure up to now. She is mostly a caricature of a spoiled glamour puss. I feel we don’t know nearly enough, or care enough, about her (indeed, one may even dislike her) that it “works” that she ends up central as the book moves to its climax. (Uh, no sexual pun intended.)

Or maybe that is supposed to be the “shock ending?” Regardless, it doesn’t really do it for me. Urgent memo to self: Avoid doing that to your own readers. 😉

It’s Saturday! It’s the weekend! Hope you’re having a good one! 🙂