Spoiler warning: spoilers for The Passenger by Lisa Lutz, and In the Cart, by Anton Chekhov.
I took up this book looking for a page-turner. It was, but hours before the end I thought its main contribution to my mental life would be the visceral knowledge that page-turners can be undelicious. It felt cold, and getting into its world felt bad. The protagonist slunk around dark and uncomfortable places, killing people, scheming harshly, perceiving low beams as dangers to the heads of tall men, and that sort of thing. With some amount of fretting about what she was becoming. I wanted to turn the pages, but I also kind of wanted it to end, and for me to read something more squarely enjoyable next time.
Then the end was different, and kept coming back to me in the day, and turned the rest around and gave it new meaning. Like the image of a long dark tunnel becomes something different if you step away and see that it starts in the loveliest of fields. After a long dark tunnel of a book, we turn around and see where the heroine came from, and her teenage innocence and goodness newly fills out the potentially empty person we have been watching. And her past isn’t really discordant—I think I just wrote her off fast. This endless night began in that day, and seeing so makes the full picture both warm and intense, where it had seemed like cheap suspense and violence.
In that abstract description, I suppose it is a bit like ‘In The Cart’ by Chekhov: we watch a dreary life, then at last that life is pulled into a perspective where we see its warm and hopeful start, unreachably distant. And it changes the flavor.
I have not much idea if what I saw was what Lisa Lutz was going for, but if she was, and if other readers are like me (haha) then I think having 85% of the book be unpleasant was probably called for.