Anyone who’s read books for any length of time, especially fiction, likely has come across one or two that were so captivating in the early chapters that it was nearly impossible to put them down. Maybe it was the setting – a familiar place, exquisitely painted that is warm and inviting or one filled with intrigue, adventure or romance that you always fantasized about visiting. Maybe it was the personality, relatability, charm, wit, strength, courage, or mysteriousness of the main character. Maybe it was the complexity, creativity, pace, drama, or texture of the story line. Maybe it was the voice of the narrator or the skill of the author – his or her descriptiveness, clarity, phrasing, or subtlety – that drew you in and made you willing/eager to follow them anywhere. Or maybe it was the villain or villainess – the bad boy or girl – that immediately captured your interest and affection, stirred something deep inside of you, triggered a passion that surprised even you. Whatever it is, we’ve all experienced it at one time or another – it and a seemingly insatiable desire for more of it that makes it the first thing we pick up in the morning and the last thing we put down at night.
But, then it happens or several things happen, often in quick succession. The author surprises us with a radically unexpected and, from our perspective, unwelcomed plot twist. A flaw is revealed in the main character that fractures our affection for him or her – indeed, makes us suddenly despise them. A relationship that we’d grown fond of and whose success we were rooting for is thrown into complete chaos and appears certain to be over. The storyline we’d grown comfortable with and whose future path seemed clear and pleasantly predictable is suddenly disrupted, detoured, and set on what by all appearances is a collision course with disaster and a wholly unsatisfying ending. If you’re like most, like me, your initial reaction vacillates between disbelief and confusion. “It can’t be true,” you exclaim to yourself and so you keep reading for a few pages or a few chapters hoping for an equally immediate turn around. When that doesn’t happen, your disbelief morphs first into frustration and then to anger. You slam the book shut and either toss it in the trash or bury it in the bottom drawer of the nearest night stand, swearing that you’ll “never read a book by that author ever again”.
A few months later, you run into a friend and fellow reader at a local coffee shop and the conversation turns to your shared passion. You ask for a recommendation for a new book to read and she can barely contain her enthusiasm, as she blurts out the name of the book now headed to the local landfill or collecting dust in your bottom drawer! You tell her that “you hated that book” and are greeted with surprise. “Really?” she asks. It’s then that you confess that you actually didn’t finish it. That you stopped halfway in disgust at the turn it had taken. She smiles, knowingly, and shares her own displeasure with the twists and turns that filled that part of the story. “They caught me off-guard too,” she admits. “I didn’t see them coming.” “But,” she continues, “you won’t believe what happens three chapters later. It’s incredible! I don’t want to ruin it for you. Promise me you’ll give it another try”. And, so you go home, pull out the book, brush off the dust and turn to the dog-eared page you’d left as a reminder of where it all went wrong – and reluctantly start reading. And just as your friend promised, your heart begins to smile and it keeps smiling all the way to the end.
Sometimes I think the stories of our lives and our relationships are like that. They start off with so much promise, so much positive energy that we can’t possibly pour enough of ourselves into them or wait to see what the next page holds. And then, often when we least expect it, something happens that blindsides us, turns our world upside down, dampens the light or extinguishes it completely, knocks us off our stride, and makes us question everything we once believed to be true. Suddenly, nothing seems to fit and in our confusion, anger, disbelief, impatience, and despair we react. Instead of weathering the storm(s) or the season(s), we close the book on us, on our relationships, or, regrettably, in some instances, on Life itself. We don’t even give the Author of it all – and redemption – a fighting chance. I’m not suggesting there’s a happy ending woven into every story, nor am I advocating that anyone should stay in a story marred by physical, emotional or psychological abuse. I’m just saying, as someone who came very close to closing a remarkably beautiful book of my own, that curling up in bed tonight with an open heart and giving yours a second look may well end up surprising you.