The moral ambiguity of a writer’s world…

Alternate title: “Kel’s morals are a little shaky.”

** (Warning: there be Waiting For Spring spoilers here. Be strong, KC!) **

I’ve always been a bit nervous about readers’ reaction to the rather gruesome murder of Tim, Rachel’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend; the asshole who was responsible for her death. I mean, as hideous a man as he was, murder is still murder, right? And I wondered if readers would be okay with the fact that Rick is never brought to justice for taking the law into his own hands. Or, to be much more honest, I wondered what they’d think of me for not bringing him to justice.

Here is the answer to my question (culled from various reader emails):

  • “Tim so got what he deserved.”
  • “I’ll admit to cheering aloud at my computer screen when you described the manner in which Rick dispatched with Tim.”
  • “The way Tim died was perfect! Rachel got justice, Rick got redemption.”
  • “Yes! If there was any justice in the real world, that’s what all wife beaters would get.”

Al-righty, then.

I think the reason for this response is obvious. In the real world – as in the fictional world I created – there is a sense of being powerless against the Tims we encounter, and it’s a great feeling when we see ‘justice’ being done; even if that justice is of the vigilante sort.

In the real world, however, we can’t just go out and off abusers, as much as we’d love to, because murder is immoral as well as illegal. In the fictional world of Waiting For Spring, Tim’s guilt is an absolute certainty. I created him, and the situation, and so I was able to say to you, the reader, “This guy is responsible for Rachel’s death. He’s going to get away with it, because he’s smart.” That’s why it was ‘acceptable’ to most readers for him to die so violently; for justice to be done outside of a court room. In the real world, though, we can’t ever be 100% sure we’ve got the right guy. And even if we feel we are, as flawed as it is, that’s what our justice system is for. End of story.

So if I truly believe the above arguments (and I do), why didn’t I use WFS to explore them? Well, mostly because it’s not what this part of the story was about. It was chiefly about Tess Dyer and Brian LaChance dealing with (among other things) their guilt and powerlessness in the aftermath of the tragedy. It was also about – as stated above – Rick finding a measure of redemption for his sins (something I’m diving even more deeply into in the new book I’m writing).

Also, I was more interested in exploring the human and societal – rather than in the legal – aspects of the situation. For example, Tess struggles with guilt on the night she knows Tim is going to be murdered, even though she sanctioned it, had earlier tried to do it herself:

“I stayed awake for another hour, imagining Tim as a little boy. I wondered what his family might have been like; wondered what had happened to him that had turned him into a monster.”

She had similarly wondered about the fate of a dirty little boy she’d seen at the market earlier in the novel, whose mother was an alcoholic:

“I wondered how much longer it would be before he realized exactly what kind of family he’d been born into. Before he understood that the twenty dollars his mother was using for liquor should have been used instead for soap and shampoo and laundry detergent. Would he grow up resentful? Bitter? Would he rise above it, determined to make a better life for himself? Or would he grow up thinking that it was normal to live that way?”

With the little boy, she was powerless to improve his situation. All she could do was offer him, in front of his mother, a friendly smile. Was this small gesture something this boy would remember and cling to in the bleak years ahead, or would it be forgotten as he slipped silently into a world of poverty and alcoholism? Was there something more Tess could have done for him after all? And what about Tim as a child? Was there any such moment in his life, when he could have been reached by a friendly gesture – or by ‘something more’? And if so, how do we explain the fact that Brian – who was abandoned by an alcoholic father, and given nothing in the way of outside help – grew up to be a decent, even heroic, human being?

Still, I have to admit that I can’t think of anything else I’ve written that gave me more pure joy than when I wrote about Tim’s death. Like Tess, I reasoned this way:

[Rachel] was lying cold and dead right now, waiting for spring to come so we could put her in the ground near her mother. Then I thought about Little Miss Seventeen and little Samantha and her mother. The boy who had died of an overdose last summer. And about the families of all those people. Their hearts were aching, right now. They were counting days and weeks and months, just like Brian and me. Soon we’d all be counting years. And soon, maybe already – maybe right now – Tim wouldn’t be. And he wouldn’t be taking them away from anybody else, either. Not anymore.

Because in the fictional world of New Mills, Maine, I am King. I have the power to make the rules, the laws, the morals, however shaky or ambigious they might be. And that’s why it’s great to be a writer.

6 thoughts on “The moral ambiguity of a writer’s world…

  1. I couldn’t resist reading this even though you warned it was a spoiler. Now I’m putting my wet finger in a light socket to give myself electroshock therapy, which will hopefully lead to retrograde amnesia so I’ll forget it.

  2. Two words, Kel: Spoiler tags.

    I think it boils down to choice in the end. Tim, Brian, the boy, even Tess all had it rough, but there is a point when they DECIDED to take a certain path. Or in the little boy’s case when he will in the future. Tess woke up and changed hers. Even Rachel had a choice to make, and she made the wrong one. Not that what happened to her is her fault, but it happened in part because of choices she made. It’s the same way in he “real world” too. We can reach out to someone, in small or big ways, but ultimately it’s up to them to figure shit out and go the right way.

    I never told you this, but the first time I read the book I thought Tim deserved what he got. I did the second time too. (haha)

  3. I just read your post again. You really did give everything away, didn’t you? Maybe you need two blogs, one for people who have read the book and one for people hwo haven’t. The spoiled blog address can be given out as a prize.

  4. I’m sticking my fingers in my ears… la la la la la la….

    I’m nearly done so it won’t go on for long… but bless you for thinking of me and the others who have no self control!

    (Love the new home!)

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