Dear Reader, see me squirm. After watching Nuala insist that Dream come to her to grant her boon, and after reading Dream say, “As long as I remain in the Dreaming, no real harm can occur,” and after then reading Nuala say, “My Lord … you are no longer in the Dreaming,” and Dream reply, “No. I am not,” I turned the page only to discover that I had just read the last words of Part 10, and thus must stop.
Dear Reader, I work hard to stick to our agreement about this experiment. I do not read ahead before I write down my meditations. I do not consult reference books or Wikipedia. I risk bushels of blunders. The purity of the experiment is what matters, and I have kept the purity I promised you at the beginning, Reader.
But, damn, I didn’t know there would be such vexing cliffhangers on this journey! I knew, of course, that each issue would not be complete, that there were tapestries and mosaics to be seen, that plots and counterplots would accumulate — I knew all this, yes, but how could I foresee that Nuala might lead Dream to his doom! And that I would then have to stop reading and write to you, Reader, my idle, straying thoughts. I did not want to resent you, Reader, but do you know the torture you are inflicting on me right now, the pain of a Major Unanswered Plot Point, a disease for which the only cure is to continue on into the narrative. But you won’t let me! You insist on reading this!
I should have told you at the beginning that I do not like suspense. A strange thing for someone who reads as much fiction as I to say, I know, but there it is. When I read mystery novels, I read the last chapter so I have a sense of who lives and who dies and whodunnit. Before seeing movies, I usually read reviews and, if possible, complete summaries. Just last week, I read the Wikipedia summaries for all the Hunger Games books because I had begun to read the first one and knew I’d be going see the movie with some friends. That’s how I roll. Suspense is intolerable, a kind of physical pain, like nausea.
I imagine you feel differently, Reader. Just about everyone I know does. Because I do not get much joy from the suspense of a plot, it took me a while to realize that there are people in the world with exactly the opposite feelings to mine. These are the people who resent any mention of any narrative without a SPOILER WARNING!!!
I don’t have those neurons in my brain, and so it is easier for me to understand how Republicans think than the Spoilerwarners. “Don’t you see,” I have said to them, “that knowing the plot information is a kind of freedom — the freedom to give more attention to other, more interesting things within the story?” They do not see this, and they think I am malicious for asking. “There are no more interesting things,” they say. “Nothing else is as much fun.”
(Then I do actually get malicious for just one moment. I tell them what happens to the boat at the end of Titanic.)
The wide-spread, pathological hatred of SPOILERS!!! and love of plot-suspense is, in some respects, a relatively recent development. We could go back to the days of folktales and myths, those ever-replicated, ever-embroidered stories that make up every culture’s bank of tales, where the pleasure was not so much in the suspense of what would happen — audiences often knew at least the basic outline of the plot — but of how the storyteller would tell it.
We don’t have to reach quite so far back in history, though. Until about fifty years ago, many movie theatres played movies continuously, with a roughly three-hour block of newsreels, cartoons, a B movie, and a longer A movie. Some theatres advertised the showtimes, especially of the feature; some theatres just advertised the hours they opened and closed. Many people would simply show up at the theatre when it was convenient, and thus could easily come in in the middle of a movie. If they liked it, they could stay and watch the beginning.
That’s not my ideal, though, because for all my hatred of suspense, I do like to look at things in the shape they were intended to be looked at, if possible. My ideal is pretty much what we have now: the ability, via the internet, to find relatively accurate plot summaries, and to read them before embarking on any journey likely to evoke suspense.
But, Reader, here I am, stuck in an experiment that denies me my usual means of undermining suspense, and here I am, Reader, with that most awful of suspense-inducing tricks, a cliffhanger!
What am I to do?
There’s really only one solution. One way to stop resenting you for keeping me here, chained to not-knowing, suffering under the suspense.
I have to stop writing this and go read Part 11…
Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of venues, including One Story, Weird Tales, Locus, Rain Taxi, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. A collection, Blood: Stories will be published by Black Lawrence Press in January 2016. He is the former series editor for the Best American Fantasy anthologies and currently a co-editor of the occasional online magazine The Revelator. His blog, The Mumpsimus, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2005. He is working toward a Ph.D. in Literature at the University of New Hampshire, where his research focuses on the work of Virginia Woolf, J.M. Coetzee, and Samuel R. Delany.