So I recently released a revised edition of an older book of mine, Grand & Humble, which tells the story of the most popular teenager in a high school, and the least popular kid, and the mystery of how the two boys are linked.
(It’s currently available for FREE in all e-platforms.)
It’s one of my personal favorites of all my books, with a “twist” ending that I’m really proud of.
That said, I’m aware that some people find the ending confusing. That’s led directly to a few one and two-star reviews on Amazon (along with some raves, natch).
That’s okay. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. And I agree that to understand the ending, you have to understand a pretty complicated idea. The ending is, and was always intended to be, a real mind-bender. How exactly are these two characters related?
For the record, if you’re confused, here’s the answer. Spoiler alert!
Harlan and Manny are the same person, but in different timelines. In Manny’s timeline, his birth-parents were killed at the corner of Grand & Humble. In Harlan’s timeline, his parents avoided the accident and survived. Harlan is who Manny might have been, and vice-versa.
Over the course of the novel, Harlan and Manny’s paths almost seem to cross again and again. But of course their paths never do actually meet, because they can’t. They exist in separate timelines, after all. Meanwhile, their paths do cross those of their respective best friends, Ricky and Elsa. That’s because those characters exist in both timelines (albeit as slightly different versions of themselves.)
Like I said, it’s a complicated idea! I admit that I, the author, use a lot of misdirection along the way, trying to keep the final reveal a secret until the very end. The entire “separated twin brothers” subplot is a red herring. But that’s what the author of every mystery does, and this book is a classic puzzle box mystery. Of course, once the answer is revealed, it should all make sense in retrospect.
For many readers, it does. But some are having a hard time making that final leap.
Am I disappointed that some people are confused? In a way, yes. I’ve said many times that the whole point of writing is communication, and the whole point of communication is to be clear. To be understood.
Also, I don’t ever want anyone to feel stupid or confused by something I’ve written.
That said, it was difficult to simply reveal the truth, since neither of the main characters is aware of the other; they solve the problems of their own lives, but neither of them solves the overall mystery of the novel. That’s up to the reader, who has to be the one to put all the pieces together and figure it out. At the end of the second to last chapter, I did try to spell it out as clearly as possible:
Manny didn’t want to dwell on the past, at least not right now. But there was one more thing he wanted to know. “What were their names, my parents?”
“Victoria and Richard Chesterton,” his dad said. “They used to call you by your first name, not Manny. Your middle name. It’s a family name, but I always thought it sounded pretentious. Which means if they hadn’t died in that accident at Grand and Humble, right now everyone would probably call you—”
“Harlan Chesterson,” Manny said.
If I had to do it again, would I do write the book differently? Well, it always really sucks to get one and two-star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. But plenty of people “get it” as well. And the ones who do get it, seem to really appreciate a fresh and unexpected twist.
And let’s face it, the whole point of Grand & Humble is to get the reader to question something very fundamental: these two characters seem completely different, virtually opposites, but they’re not. In fact, if not for the events at the corner of Grand and Humble, they would be exactly the same.
Could this be true for all of us? In America especially, many of us talk like we are all in complete control of our lives, that we are the sum result of the choices we’ve made. And in a way, that’s kind of true. But it’s also true that we are the result of some forces beyond our control. Most of us are smart and humble enough to admit that certain events in our lives, certain situations, are so profound that if they hadn’t happened, we’d be someone pretty different.
This is what I’m exploring in the novel, in addition to writing what I hope is an engrossing, entertaining puzzle box thriller.
In the end, I’m pretty happy with this latest edition of the book, even as I recognize that not every book is for every reader.