Sharp Objects blunted by twist ending

This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen HBO’s Sharp Objects, you’re in for a treat, go watch it. Then come back and read.

 

Sharp Objects is a show you have to pay attention to. It’s smart, and subtle, and you can miss entire plot points if you look away for even a few seconds. What I loved so much about Sharp Objects wasn’t the story as much as how it was told. That is, the story was shown, rather than told. You pick up clues, make inferences, put together implications and build for yourself the picture of what’s going on. It is supremely satisfying to be treated like an intelligent, observant, perceptive viewer.

And that’s why the ‘twist’ ending was such a shock to me. Not because the the actual revelation that Amma was a killer was a shock, there was enough hints and cues and clues throughout this very thoughtful and subtle show to put it together–if we’d been given the chance. The shock was that a show this subtle and evocative felt the need for something as trite as a twist ending at all. I expected a show like Sharp objects to leave me thinking, puzzling, wondering, with as many questions as answers.

Instead Sharp Objects ended like a teen slasher movie with the best buddy who you think has been helping the whole time suddenly baring fangs or pulling out a knife. Oh no, what a twist. Amma may as well have stepped into frame covered in blood and holding a handful of teeth.

At the very least if they’d cut it with Camille finding the tooth in the dollhouse (which had the nice out of focus shot of the doll sitting limp in the window to remind you of the original murder scene), you’d have a moment to think about it for yourself. You might think: ‘why would Amma have teeth… did she take them from her mother… or…’ then your mind rolls back over the show, you make connections, you get that ‘oh, god…’ moment. It’s satisfying to be shown instead of told the answer.

But we get it rubbed in our face by Amma showing up like a ghost who lost their jump scare violins ‘Don’t tell mama!’ And if that wasn’t enough, we have the post-credit scene to really hammer it home for any dummies in the audience who didn’t catch on. It left a disappointing taste in my mouth after such a monumentally impressive show.

All this leaves aside the question of why we need twist endings anyway. I know Sharp Objects was based on a novel, so to leave out the twist would have been a disservice to the author and fans. But why does a good show or movie need a twist at all? Why do so many authors and directors feel obligated to include one? Wasn’t it surprising enough that Camille’s own mother was the killer without having to flip everything on its head in the last seconds of the entire show?

Sharp Objects was about so much more than just who killed those girls. In fact, while watching it I was hardly ever concerned with that question. I wanted to know about Camille’s history, her family, her past and future. And I got to learn all that and more. That is what got me excited while watching Sharp Objects. Ending on a goofy twist that puts all the focus on the ‘who dunnit’ aspect seems like a major disservice.

Anyone who stuck with this show to the end is not going to be afraid of subtlety and ambiguity. Those aspects were the hallmarks of this exceedingly sharp show. It’s a shame it had to end in such a blunt way.

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The Castle, by Franz Kafka

This is the first writing by Kafka I’ve read that I haven’t been impressed by. And unlike the Trial, when they say it is unfinished, they really mean unfinished, like it cuts off in the middle of a sentence. I don’t understand why this was published, or why people continue to read it today.

The story is about ‘K’, who arrives in a nameless town, and at the center of this town is a ‘the castle’ which may or may not be an actual castle, but contains offices and officials who may or may not have influence over people in the town. K wants to get into the castle for a reason we never learn, and makes nearly zero progress toward this goal for the entirety of the writing.

think the point of it was the paranoia and confusion of impenetrable bureaucracy, but I’m not totally sure. Similar to The Trial (which also features a character called ‘K’) K is overwhelmed at every step by incomprehensible rules, but unlike the Trial, in which he is trying to find out what he’s been accused of, or at least be done with his trial, in the Castle we have no idea what his objective is other than ‘get to the castle.’ We have no idea who he is or where he came from, what was his life before.

The only part of the book that I really liked was when the story of Frieda’s father trying to remove what he sees as a ‘black mark’ on his daughter because she did not meet an official who asked her out for a drink. After she does this, every wrong thing that happens to the family, he perceives as being because the officials have them on some kind of the list. He expends all his energy trying to contact these officials in the castle (which he, like K, cannot get into) and spends all his money trying to bribe them, all when they have not even confirmed that the family has any black mark at all.

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend it. There was too many long, seemingly meaningless conversations, and not enough of K being foiled to make it as claustrophobic as The Trial was. Mostly I was just bored.

Why I write in Google Docs

Writers all have their different habits and preferences for bringing words into existence. There are an endless number of writing programs, both free and paid, some just for processing words, or other more complex ones for organizing and story-boarding. Some writers even use pen and paper and keep physical piles of paper laying around! Personally, I choose to write everything in Google Docs, and here are my reasons why:

Accessibility: I can work on my project from any device with connection to the internet. Even if I don’t currently have a connection, I can open the file offline and work on it, and as soon as I connect it will be updated in the cloud. This removes so many excuses not to write. Even if all my electronic equipment went up in flames, I could still go to the library and open my document, and keep working. Which brings me to….

Peace of Mind: Laptop stolen? My story is safe. Critical error and hard drive erased? My story is safe. Unless Google goes belly up and shuts down all their servers, my story is always safe. Even the old horror story of a power outage or computer crash when I haven’t pressed ‘save’ in a while is no longer a worry, because it always is auto-saved to the cloud.

Sharing and Collaboration: Stories need to be reviewed, and it’s very easy to send a link to a Google Docs file, and allow comments, or even allow editing by anyone with the link, or give permission to specific people. Sure, I can always put a word doc in an email and send it to a bunch of people, but this leads to so many different versions to go over. With Docs, I can have all the comments from all the readers all on the same file, with no effort required by anyone. Just click the link, read, and comment.

Version History: Did you know Google Docs had this? I didn’t until recently. This adds even more to the peace of mind section, as well as simplicity. I can make major changes to a story without worrying about saving another version, because Google does that for me. All I have to do is go to file > version history > see version history, and I can look at earlier versions  by date. Drink a bit too much and make some sweeping changes that don’t look so good in the morning? Just load up an earlier version. Thanks Google!

Download as: Yes, it’s true that Google Docs doesn’t have quite the formatting capabilities as Word, but after you’re done writing and want to do some formatting of the final version, just download it as a word doc! You can also download as .odt, .rtf, .pdf, .txt, .htm. and even .epub, to upload it right to your e-reader!

Free!: And all this convenience is completely free. Just get a google account, and you’ll have access to all these features as well as 5gb of free storage space, which, when we’re dealing with text documents might as well be unlimited. Give it a try! You’ll thank me later 🙂

uh oh, the French are at it again

I’ve started reading The Plague, by Albert Camus since I liked The Stranger so much, and …. sigh. It’s the same problem I had with Madame Bovary and to a lesser extent, Swan’s Way. There are no characters, and just descriptions of things happening in a very passive, drawn back way. I don’t know if this is a different translator than The Stranger, or what, but it’s a completely different style and not engaging at all.

It’s a fairly short novel, so I’m going to stick with it, but I’m getting all kinds of ‘what not to do’ ideas for my own writing while reading this…

I’m about 20% through it, so it still has time to get better. I keep waiting for it to ‘zoom in’ and start the story, but it might not ever do this. We’ll see…

The Stranger, by Albert Camus

I’ve broken my streak of giving up on French classics!

This was a short, and somewhat disturbing read. The story opens with the character, Meursault, stating that his mother has died, though he’s not exactly sure when, and then describes her funeral.

We soon find that the Meursault does not seem to have any emotional connection to anything that is happening around him. He does not cry at his mother’s funeral, or seem to feel much at all about it.

The only thing that seems to get much of a reaction out of Meursault at all is the heat. He feels more about the heat while walking during the funeral procession, than he does his mother’s death.

As the story progresses, Meursault ends up helping a friend, Raymond, exact a pretty gross revenge on his lover. He does this without really thinking about it, and only on his second time meeting Raymond.

This cruel revenge leads the lovers brother to attack Raymond at the beach where they are vacationing. Meursault is present for the altercation, but doesn’t seem to feel or care much about it, except that he doesn’t want to be around the women (Meursault’s girlfriend and another guest) who are very upset by the incident. Here too, the heat is the only thing that phases him. The hot sun reflecting off the water and burning and oppressing him makes it hard for him to think. But he’d rather be outside in the sun, than inside with the upset women, so he goes for a walk out in the sun, which leads eventually to his predicament.

He finds, that in blind delirium brought on by the sun, he’s shot the man Raymond was feuding with.

The novel then continues with his arrest and sentencing, and time in prison. During all of it, the only thing that that seems to illicit any kind of reaction from him, is when the courtroom is over hot.

The end of this book, and Meursault’s thoughts on the inevitability of death had a anxious, upsetting affect on me, and I found myself connecting with this empty character in several ways. Mainly, his fear not of death itself, but his frustration with the inevitability of it, the lack of hope or means of escape.

There were many parallels to Crime and Punishment in this story, but unlike Roskolnikov, whose paranoia and guilt and nervousness lead to his capture, it is exactly the opposite for Meursault–his coolness and emotionless reaction to everything and everyone around him are his demise.

Very interesting, and somewhat upsetting read.

my mother is a fish, or, As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

Why have I never read Faulkner before? This was a great story of a terrible family full of selfish people, told in many different voices from at least a dozen points of view.

Faulkner claims that he wrote the novel from midnight to 4:00 AM over the course of six weeks and that he did not change a word of it. This is a little fact I’ve thought of now and then for a long time, even though I’ve never read Faulkner before. I find that idea amazing, if true.

This book told a lot in what it didn’t tell. Mainly , the character’s complete lack of consideration for their recently dead mother. Only the youngest character, Vardaman, even seemed to think of her at all. Jewel made a daring rescue of her body from the fire, but his POV chapters still didn’t have much thought about her, and no one really seemed to mourn at all. They all had their own things on their minds.

I find their perceptions of each other interesting, too. All the family seems to perceive Darl as the ‘slow’ or ‘off’ one, but his chapters are the most lucid and eloquently written ones.

The end of the novel pretty much sums up the entire book in a single event in the final pages. Brilliantly written, and I’ll have to get some more Faulkner in my life very soon.

The Great Gatsby. Still not sure if I read it.

Well, now I’ve finished it, but I still feel like I haven’t. I had a terrible time trying to pay attention to this one, but I think that was mostly the fault of the narrator. Jake Gyllenhaal (in a trend of having famous actors read classics) gives a dull, monotone reading that would put you to sleep if not for the constant, piercing s-whistles sprinkled throughout.

I already feel I’ll have to give this one yet another try, but next time I’ll be sure to do it in text form.

The parts that I could stay alert for were good, but anything can be boring when read in a tired, simple tone. It reminded me of a ninth grader being forced to read in front of their class, something they have no concept of or interest in understanding. Just words on a page, with no change in pace or rhythm, even when moving from describing a sunset to describing a deadly car crash.

The words will slide right off your brain into oblivion.