In The Unlikely Event
Spoilers everywhere – come back if you haven’t finished.
You know, usually I am not afraid of endings. Usually I am the one who says things like “I’d rather something end well, early, than go on too long”. I am unsentimental, not because I’m heartless, but because usually, there are lots of things to love.
But this felt like a goodbye.
Over the past month there have been many articles written about Judy Blume and almost all say something like ‘Judy Blume says this is her last book but let’s see…’ I don’t know, I want that to be true, but this felt final. Didn’t it?
Something about the way Miri let us get close to her, but not too close. Something about the way Rusty was the same character from beginning to end. She was affected by things, among them the crashes and Miri’s relationship with Mason – but she was basically the same. Then there were people who changed: Christina, Natalie, Natalie’s brother, Steve. Immeasurable changes for many characters – but not all of them heartwarming or satisfying.
With three plane crashes ostensibly ‘targeting’ children, how uplifting can the book be? For me the harrowing sequences were the ones getting to know the people who – you realized, as you turned pages feverishly – were about to be victims of the crashes. I started to get tense and sick once I clocked that, and I would argue that’s the point of the book. I would argue that’s the way the people in Elizabeth felt in that year. Always anticipating something terrible happening. Probably that’s not a healthy way to live, but I can see how it was.
I can’t untie my feelings about the story to my feelings about Blume and the maybe-goodbye that this is. I am so struck by Natalie, who recovered but not in the way anyone predicted, and who made me think of Madonna even before the obvious comparisons near the end. I am aware of Jack and Mason, somewhat secondary in this story, even though in a different situation it could have been all about them. I appreciate that, as always with Judy Blume, there are characters who have full backstories, even if we only hear parts of them. Dr. O’s assistant and Henry’s fiancé come to mind, but that’s been a hallmark of Judy Blume’s for a long time. The story might not be about them, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have a story.
Mostly, I feel the ending is bittersweet, but that I’ll be OK. I am better for having read it, even if the ending isn’t resolutely happy and warm. And that makes sense to me.
People always say that Judy Blume’s books prove she still understands what it was like to be a young person and a teenager. I agree, of course – that’s what got me into her books in the first place – but I feel more as though she’s helping me to be an adult. Reassuring me that even though terrible things happen – three plane crashes in three months! – it will basically be okay. Not unchanged, and not ever forgotten, but fundamentally okay.
The fact that I can reread the book whenever I need a reminder of that fundamental tenet of adulthood is just one reason why Judy Blume is still so important to a generation of us who hope, still, against hope, that she has one more thing she needs to tell us, because we so desperately want to know.
Brent N. Clarke/ Bennett Raglin/ Getty Images