I’ve never been a big fan of mysteries. There’s a lot of creativity in characters and settings, but ultimately the mechanics of always having to solve a murder is limiting. It’s a box, and not one big enough to hold my interest. On the other hand, speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), can be anything so long as just one element doesn’t mesh with the current structure of reality as we know it. It could be a straight-ahead coming of age novel except that the main characters have magical powers; or maybe a story about colonizers and cultural oppression, but it takes place on another planet. There are no boundaries, which is why I’ve been hooked since I was 12.
Lately, though, I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries and watching crime shows on TV. That same rigidity which once bored me now feels comforting and hopeful. I know that by the end of book or episode all the questions will be answered. That old lady found murdered in her apartment: turns out the landlord wanted to sell the building and she was the final hold out. Neat, comforting, complete.
Real life doesn’t work that way. Problems aren’t always solved, and the big terrible things that happen in our lives don’t get the kind of closure that’s found in a novel or TV show. Stuff happens, for reasons we’ll never know or for no reason; and that’s all there is.
It doesn’t sit well for those us who want those neatly tied packages. Chief Brenda Johnson could find who committed the crime and get them to confess in 42 minutes. I’m haunted by wondering if my husband guessed at how serious his health problems were and choose to ignore them; and if so, why. I sit up nights asking myself how much awareness he had during that nightmare 6 weeks that went from getting a serious but hopeful diagnosis to dying. I obsess over the details of our 8 years together looking for clues as to when his sickness started. Sometimes I pretend that I can travel back in time to give a warning, but to do so I have to pinpoint the exact time; not too early, not too late.
None of it matters. I’ll never know how much he was present at the end; or what he was really thinking as he got sicker and weaker; or why he put off seeing a doctor. I’m not alone in this; none of us gets the satisfying all ends neatly tied off and prettily packaged answers we want. Whether it’s trying to figure out why that great job interview didn’t result in an offer, or the best friend who suddenly becomes distant; no matter the situation, there is rarely the kind of satisfying final scene where everything is explained in a rational manner. It just doesn’t happen.
This is why I’ve become such a fan of mysteries. Because there’s always the denouement where everything is explained, and all the loose ends are fixed. All the questions get answered, and the answers always make sense. If only life worked that way.