Give me a mystery
Give me a mystery—just a plain and simple one—a mystery which is diffidence and silence, a slim little, barefoot mystery: give me a mystery—just one!
So said Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, beautifully articulating the way human nature longs for puzzlement, for mazes to work our way through, for knots that beg to be untied.
Last night, I managed to tear myself away from Harlan Coben's Promise Me long enough to see the movie Mr. Brooks. I'm on a quest to improve my plotting skills and both the book and the movie provoked big thinky thoughts about what mystery is and what it needs in order to satisfy the cerebral tickle.
SPOILER WARNING! MR. Brooks SPOILER! SPOILER WARNING! SPOILER WARNING! Mr. Brooks SPOILER! SPOILER WARNING!
My husband had gone to see Mr. Brooks on Saturday night while I was slaving away over a hot critique meeting with the Midwives (actually, we were slaving away over a cold bottle of white wine, but I digress), and he could hardly contain himself long enough for me to go see it. He wanted to talk about it, wanted to compare thoughts, mental notes, theories.
The most wonderful thing about the wonderful Mr. Brooks script is that it does not tie things up with a bow. There is more mystery left at the end than we faced at the beginning, and somehow this is the far more satisfying resolution (not!) to the film. It's anti-whodunnit. We know from the beginning who did what to whom. At the end, we know some portion of the story was a dream, but how much, we're left wondering? All of it? Is it only the horrific scissors-in-the-neck moment? Everything after the hey-Costner-looks-pretty-good-in-his-birthday-suit scene by the kiln? Does his wife know the daughter is a murderer? Is his daughter planning to kill him? Gary and I will be debating it for days.
Part of the bell-ringing realism of Mr. Brooks is his tidy side. He has a penchant for optimization, and we can smoothly accept everything he's been able to accomplish (and see it as an "accomplishment"!) because of his careful attention to detail. To detailing. To a cleanliness that brings him to an orgasm of godliness, and what is godliness if not the power over life and death?
The most disheartening thing that can happen (for me anyway) in a mystery/thriller script or manuscript is that Scooby-Doo moment of unmasking and explanation. "And I'd have gotten away with it, too, if not for you meddlesome kids!" Why? Why? WHY? There has to be a profoundly pragmatic side to mystery or it simply does not ring the right bells. (This is why slasher movies have zero appeal for me. There just so damn impractical!)
I know this is not what he meant when he said this, but Herman Melville expressed it perfectly:
Mystery is in the morning, and mystery in the night, and the beauty of mystery is everywhere; but still the plain truth remains, that mouth and purse must be filled.
PS...later that same day...
How ironic is this? Not only did Promise Me (which was going so well!) end with a Scooby revelation, Coben actually writes:
She met his eye. "Only one thing messed me up."
Myron spread his hands. "Modesty prevents me from saying it."
"Then I will. You, Myron. You messed me up."
"You're not going to call me a meddlesome kid, are you? Like on Scooby-Doo?"
Harlan! Why, why, WHY?