Literary Detective Work

I finished reading William Brodrick’s The Gardens of the Dead today at lunch and then spent an inordinate amount of time puzzling over what seemed to be contradictory events in the ending. Everything made sense, and then it didn’t, but all the characters were acting as if everything still made sense. I even went into Bill’s office and hashed it out with him: “The first 333 pages are brilliant, and then there’s this bizarre, I don’t know, is it some kind of sophisticated parable?”

I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, but, you know, spoilers.

I wasn’t sure whether: a) the galley had been printed from a draft in which the ending was in the process of being rewritten, and parts of both endings were still extant; b) Brodrick had attempted an audacious literary trick and failed; or c) Brodrick had pulled off an audacious literary trick and I was too dumb to understand it.

I read the last 35 pages again. And then again. This bizarre disconnect, it seemed, hinged on just a few sentences. How could everything seem so normal – all the characters’ arcs were perfectly described except for this one instance of unreality – when something so weird was going on?

And then I found it, a single sentence that I had misread three times. Brodrick had indeed played a little trick, writing a scene that appeared as if it ended one way, then a few pages later given a clever explanation as to what had actually happened. Most readers will probably arrive at this moment with an “Ah!” or a nod, or a smile – unless they are like me, so determined to find evidence for the improbable that they miss the explanation for the obvious.

Again, I’m sorry that I can’t be more specific. I just thought I’d share a mysterious example of mystery-reviewing detective work. Only I’m the bumbling detective who keeps misreading the clues.

But I told you I’m tired.

No posts ’til next Tuesday. I’m going to kick off Memorial Day weekend tomorrow with an activity that everyone will agree is the perfect way to herald the approach of summer: spending the day in a poolroom.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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