Do Authors Have an Obligation to Readers?

I was reading a book recently.  It was written in the first person (for you non-Englishy types, that means it was written from the “I” perspective).

One-third of the way in, the narrator dropped a bomb.  Oh, by the way, I’ve kept this hush-hush for a third of the book, but guess what, I have this giant secret I didn’t tell you.

I quit reading it.  In fact, I went and looked up the ending on Wikipedia and just gave up on it all together.

This is hard for me to explain, but I’ll try:

I don’t have a problem with
* most unreliable narrators
* slowly learning secrets in books.

I don’t mind Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway; I love books like Jellicoe Road where all the pieces come together in the end.  (Finnikin of the Rock too, for that matter!  And When You Reach Me!)

But I do take issue when I feel like a writer has tried to trick me.  Makes me mad.

Is that unfair of me?

tricky

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3 thoughts on “Do Authors Have an Obligation to Readers?

  1. I don’t think it’s unfair of you at all; I’ve had the same reaction before to both books and movies. When I saw the title of your post, I thought, no, authors don’t necessarily have an obligation to the reader, but they DO have an obligation to the story. When authors drop a bomb like that, try to trick us, I wonder if it isn’t just bad storytelling. That sounds SO presumptuous of me, but in the examples you cited, Gatsby and Marchetta and countless others are able to pull off intriguing stories, surprise endings, etc., while still making it all feel plausible and giving the reader a chance to participate in the mystery of it all. Authors who don’t maybe don’t know how or are trying to flat-out shock the reader.

  2. Couple things to preface my comments: 1) I know what book you’re talking about, and I was a fan. 2) It’s been a while since I read the book, my mind purges the details of things, so I’m going off general feelings.

    So that said, I was sort of delightedly shocked when the bomb dropped in this book. It’s been dribbling in and out of my mind since learning it irked you so much to try and figure out why I liked it. I think it’s because of the psychology and human nature you experience in the trick – I’ve had relationships with people where the same kind of bomb drop occurred and tainted everything I previously thought and experienced with them. I think maybe it just really intrigued me to read a first-hand account of the lies people sometimes tell others so much they become true to themselves. It was nifty for me to see a story from such drastically different angles and layers of “truth” or lack thereof.

    Blathering. Done.

    Oh, but P.S. I don’t think it’s unfair. Different strokes for different folks?

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