Friday, April 1, 2016

After the fat lady sings

So, you may think it's over when the fat lady sings, but it isn't over for her until you've leapt to your feet, cheered madly, applauded wildly, and thrown roses onto the stage.
Dwight Currie, How We Behave at the Feast

In fiction, it's called the denouement. First, there's the climax, which is when the mystery is solved, the bad guy is captured, the heroine is rescued or whatever. Then comes the denouement, when everything gets back to normal and any remaining questions are answered.

Real life has its denouements as well. As Dwight Currie suggests in How We Behave at the Feast, the opera isn't over when the fat lady sings or when the orchestra plays the final note of music or even when the curtain comes down. It's not really over until the audience responds. That's the denouement that restores normality, allowing opera fans to go home satisfied.

In worship services in many churches, applause after choir anthems or solo performances is frowned upon because it supposedly interferes with the worshipful atmosphere. People are there to worship God, not human singers and musicians. Yet, especially after a particularly rousing piece of music, one can get a feeling of incompleteness. We have a climax without the denouement.

When is a meal over? Is it when the last bite is eaten, or is it when the dishes have been cleared away and washed, when the cook has been complimented or, if it takes place in a restaurant, when the check has been paid?

I often stay in my seat for movie credits. Sometimes, as in the Bill Murray film St. Vincent, it's a big mistake to walk out of the theater or to stop the DVD before watching the credits. But even when the credits are nothing but names, I still appreciate these few minutes to listen to the music and contemplate the story I have just watched.

Sporting events don't end with the final whistle, the last out or whatever. They end when the athletes congratulate each other and when the fans stop cheering. Some big games don't end until several days later when people finally stop talking about them and reliving key plays.

Books, both for those who write them and those who read them, aren't really over when they may seem to be over. A book may be published, yet it's not really finished until a reader reads it. Each reader, in a sense, finishes the author's work. Great Expectations remains an unfinished novel because people are still reading it and still gaining something from the experience.

I don't write something about every book I read, but I write about most of them. This commentary, for me, completes the reading of the book. It helps me digest it. Often I feel I don't really understand it until I've written something about it. Whether I write about a book or not, I do write down its title in a notebook in which I keep a record of books read. That, too, helps give me a feeling of completion.

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