Sometimes author epilogues, or future sequels, are weird. Yes, I want to know what happened to the characters. But sometimes, if it doesn’t quite fit into my vision, it feels wrong, weird. I recognize that’s an odd opinion to adopt, since it’s the author and it’s canon – the future of these characters in this world has to fit in with their vision, not mine.
Think, for example, about the epilogue at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (spoilers, obviously, though I suspect at this point that if you haven’t read the book (or even seen the movie), you aren’t ever going to). No one I know liked it. A lot of that had to do with the various marriages among the characters that took place (Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione), but my issue wasn’t so much with that as it was with the rather stilted language. Supposedly Rowling wrote this well in advance and stored it away, which I don’t find fault with, but it’s shoved in after all those years of her writing improving, and I always found it distracting. Besides, it tends to fall victim to the classic scenario of everyone ending up with everyone else. It’s been nineteen years and everyone’s ended up with their high school sweetheart? From one perspective, it’s good for the reader, because we don’t have to learn any new characters (except for their kids!) and since we were always hoping for good ol’ so-and-so to get together with what’s-her-face, it’s nice to see that desire fulfilled. But on the other hand, how many people do you know who are married to their high school sweetheart? I suppose if there’s only the one wizarding school in the whole of Britain, that’s the only way you’re going to get to know any wizards in your age bracket, but really, it just makes it seem more like a meat market than a school. Come to Hogwarts! Learn some magic and get a husband!
There’s also the epilogue, or “Chapter 14” of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (found at the end of, appropriately, The End). This one fits a little better and is less unsettling, as it only takes place about a year or two in the future, and since the characters are (spoilers!) marooned on a deserted island, there’s no one new we need to be acquainted with. Since they’re children, no one gets married. Everyone just reads and eats fruit. The only part of it that’s truly unsettling is that it answers almost none of the questions that have been building up over thirteen books. (Of course, that is the point: the world is full of unanswered questions and even one answer will raise yet more questions. That is the nature of the world.) But since the book (again, taking place on a deserted island) is so far removed from the “real” world, there’s no chance for the world to change them. This is, of course, the entire purpose of the island, according to its former inhabitants. But the entire final volume is itself a little unsettling, so far removed from the complicated and interconnected world I’d come to love.
This morning I started Sisterhood Everlasting, by Ann Brashares, which takes places ten years in the future after the Traveling Pants quartet (isn’t, technically, book four when it stops being A Trilogy and then becomes A Series? I suppose not, if it stops at four. Will this book officially make it a series?). I always feel a little odd about the Sisterhood books themselves, placed in the precarious position of being each set a year apart, filling up the few months of summer. The characters get to grow over the school years, but we don’t get to see that, and instead are plunked down in the middle of May or June, trying to cope with these new changes to the girls that they’ve already had plenty of time to adjust to. In that vein, though, it’s not as difficult to pick it up again ten years later. (I won’t bother with spoiler warnings, as I’m less than fifty pages in.) Carmen’s an actress, Lena teaches, Bridget lives with that Eric kid from soccer camp, and Tibby has run off to Australia to live with longtime boyfriend Brian for no apparent reason. Carmen and Lena break the mold by dating new characters, Lena is seeing the fundamentally uninteresting Drew, and Carmen is engaged to television producer Jones, whom the girls all seem to unequivocally consider an asshole. Fortunately, nothing about his lone appearance so far seems to dispute this; it’s hard to hate someone when you don’t know them. But this is the problem when the characters all move and grow and develop without you seeing it.
To Brashares’s credit, the passage of time feels perfectly natural, if you ignore the mentions of gadgets and television shows that make you want to look up exactly how accurate this timeline is. The mentions of large events, deaths of orbiting characters, is done in an way that’s not disrespectful, but casual – the sad, matter-of-fact way you’d mention it if it’d happened awhile ago. This is perhaps the one series where an epilogue, if we can even call it that, works to its benefit. The pacing the series has and the style in which it’s written really help contribute to making this much of a skip in time believable rather than jarring. It fits with the tone and the whole general purpose of the story, which is exactly what an epilogue is supposed to do.