I just read Shirley Jackson's unfinished novel, Come Along With Me. It's only thirty pages, though, so maybe it should be in quotation marks instead. It's one of my favorite kind of novels: a woman with a mysterious past leaves it all behind and starts a new life. Gosh, how many books have I read like that? Not enough! That's one particular theme I can't get enough of.
Jackson had a wicked sense of humor and a real misanthropic streak she managed to keep tamped down most of the time. She let it rip for these few last pages. Her protagonist -- a medium who talks to the dead -- lies about everything, compulsively shoplifts, and doesn't have a nice thing to say about anyone. It's tragic that it's over so soon, rather like Jackson's life.
(For years I didn't read any of her novels because I had to read "The Lottery" in high school, and I hated it. It seemed so heavy-handed. But then I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and was a convert. In an essay in the same volume as Come Along With Me she describes getting the idea for "The Lottery" while pushing her daughter up a hill in a stroller, so now I have new respect for it.)
There aren't that many unfinished novels published. I know that something of Hemingway's was published a few years back, but I didn't read it. The reviews weren't so great, but anyway, who wants to read something with no ending? Dickens's Edwin Drood is a murder mystery, but you never find out who did it. Ugh!
But some writers, like Shirley Jackson, have such a slender oeuvre that every paragraph seems valuable, and I certainly enjoyed her unfinished book a lot more than many finished ones. It makes me wonder about what makes a book worth reading in the first place. How much of it is the ultimate satisfaction of an appropriate ending? How much is just getting to see through the author's eyes?