Just my final thoughts on the ending of Amy Bloom’s ‘Away’

Okay, remember how I said at the meeting last night that I hadn’t finished the book? Well I have now, and I sort of wish I hadn’t bothered!

Last night, I jokingly said that I’d email everybody with the authoritative decision on how the story ended. I was joking then; but, sorry…. I couldn’t resist putting in my two-cent rant now, the rant I most certainly would have made last night if I had finished the book in time.

I was really enjoying it right up to about the point where I had stopped reading yesterday… the point where Lillian starts walking in Alaska. But right around the point where she finds the three children in the cabin, the author seems to have just given up finding anything else interesting to say, or any sort of ending whatsoever, and dashed off the rest of the book in before lunch. Even the character of John, which she either did or didn’t spend the rest of her life with, is barely hinted at. Are we supposed to feel anything whatsoever about him? I guess not.

It seems absolutely impossible to guess what the author had in mind for the ending…. impossible even to guess what she thought the reader MIGHT take away from it….. after puzzling it over quite a while I have two possibilities…. 1) Lillian died when she was out checking the traplines for John and got caught in the blizzard … (but that really wouldn’t explain all the pointless talk of the boat, etc….because if all the rest of the book really were some kind of dying fantasy, then why would she not have made it to Russia for god’s sake?) or, 2) the very last paragraph of the book is just a sort of little hallucination she has when she really is dying after all those years of being with John. If this was the intent then the last quarter of the book was certainly shallow compared to what went before it. God only knows which; I don’t think Amy Bloom does, or cares.

I like an ambiguous ending as much as the next guy (which probably isn’t much), …. but THIS “ending” doesn’t make any sense no matter HOW you interpret it!

After really quite enjoying the first three-quarters of the book, I felt really cheated. And I’m even a little angry about it right now. So much for this Amy Bloom.. I think it will be a very cold day in hell indeed before I risk reading anything else from her!

(end of rant)
(Responses and contrary opinions willingly accepted.)

Steve

PS: If you haven’t seen the movie “Little Big Man,” you owe it to yourself. 1970 Dustin Hoffman (and many others)

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8 Responses to Just my final thoughts on the ending of Amy Bloom’s ‘Away’

  1. Barry says:

    I was really surprised during discussion when people were unsure about the ending of the book, and Lillian’s ultimate fate. The author uses the same “summing-up” device on Lillian that she uses on the other characters. We step out of the present-tense narration to fast-forward through the rest of Lillian’s life. After that, the story switches back to the present.

    The alternate explanations are complex and imaginative, but I really don’t think the author intended any ambiguity whatsoever.

    I think the author’s summing-up device is a bit of a cop-out. But I just chalked that up to Amy Bloom being a short-story writer attempting to pull off a novel.

  2. Steve M says:

    So you’re saying that the very last paragraph of the book was the ‘coming back to the present?’ The present being 5 miles from Dawson on the first boat try. humm. Doesn’t even say if she’s on the sandbar with the boat, or if she made it to shore; just one sentence she is kicking her legs in the cold water and chipping her tooth… the next sentence she is wringing out her coat, and then John apparently arrives. Just seems like a heckuva place to end the story, after all the interesting or painful details we’ve gone through with her on the way to getting this far.

  3. Steve M says:

    but having re-read the last chapter, I do agree with you that that is exactly what the author intended, as you say, without ambiguity. Not sure why I didn’t see that, except that the birch leaves and trees mentioned in the final paragraph seem to have come out of nowhere… not mentioned in the part where she has crashed the boat on the sandbar. Whereas, when she is lost in the snowstorm near johns cabin, there ARE a lot of trees surrounding her, and she seems at that point impossibly lost. And there was never any description of how she found her way out of THAT predicament, which I found EXTREMELY weird at the time.

  4. Barry says:

    I got the feeling the author was more interested in the emotional truth of the characters’ experiences and states of mind than an exhaustive naturalistic description of their physical environment. I admit there were one or two passages in Away that tripped my interior BS detector. “How exactly did that happen then?”

    Contrast that to that Tolstoy fellow, who might take up a few pages getting a character to properly enter a room.

    Even Franzen (he’s our generation’s Tolstoy, right? 😉 ) sometimes flakes out on accuracy and vividness of details. But he still manages to fill a tome.

    I liked the uniqueness of the Lillian’s personality, the colorful supporting characters, the historical sweep and the feminist political observations about exchanging sex as a form of currency. The author may have committed a few very minor flubs on story mechanics but I just didn’t find them very distracting.

  5. Steve M says:

    I totally agree with you. I just think that I could have gotten all the colorful characters, historical sweep, political observations, and all the other admittedly great value of the book, and not missed a single valuable or entertaining thing, if I had simply stopped reading about 3/4 of the way through the book. In fact, that is about how much I’d read by the time I got to the meeting, and you may recall that I had quite been enjoying the book to that point. Once Chinky left the story, not a single interesting or important thing happened after that. Or did I miss something?

  6. Barry says:

    Lillian’s quest has to founder on the rocks of adversity. So she’s wandering in the wilderness and encounters great hardship. She also joins a family and temporarily becomes a mother again. That’s all important but it’s missing all of the disgraceful compromises and urban grit that were so entertaining in the previous chapters.

    When she capsizes it’s actually somewhat comical. The sailors who sell it to her all shake their heads as one when she chugs away in the silly tub of a boat. I doubt many readers see this passage as humorous. I like this passage. It’s her last nearly fatal lapse in judgement, as well as the last time a bit of dumb luck will save her.

  7. Theia says:

    I am happy to read that someone else had the same wtf reaction to the end of the book that I did. I have no idea what the end of the story was…. was it a dream? Did she die in the snow? Did John die in the snow? Did they grow old together and then he randomly fell in the woods one day?

    • Susan Bill says:

      That’s my reaction! Wth is happening, did she die and all of the happy ever afters are just what she wished or imagined? Did John find her on the sandbar? Where was she when she saw his hand? The way it says she saw John’s hand first almost seems like she found his body.

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