Books / Culture

Rewriting the Ending: Patrick Ness’s More Than This

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I’m reading Patrick Ness’s More Than This. It’s the kind of book I never read — young adult, science fiction, post-apocalyptic — and that may be a mistake because it’s fabulous. The story opens with Seth, 17, drowning in the Pacific Ocean — he’s walked into the frigid, turbulent waters and let them have at him, the undertow sucking him down again and again, the current toying with him until it smashes him against some rocks, first breaking his shoulder blade, and then crushing his skull.

And then he wakes up.

The story is told in a series of back-and-forth switches between the dystopian, post-suicide (if, in fact, he’s really dead), world Seth finds himself in, and the equally dystopian world he’s left behind. He’s walked into the sea for a whole bunch of reasons, including a savage childhood trauma that has splintered his family and left his parents and his younger brother husks of their former selves.

But the final push into the sea, the thing that sends Seth down to the beach and has him remove his shoes and socks before walking in, is a case of homophobic cyberbullying: Monica, one of his best friends, finds intimate photos of Seth and his lover, Gudmund, on Gudmund’s phone and forwards them to everybody at their high school.

“You and Gudmund,” she said quietly, her nose running in the cold air, her breath coming out over her scarf in white puffs. “You and fucking Gudmund. […] It makes sense. […] Looking back. If you asked me before, I have even wished it.” She smiled at him, her eyes said. “Wished it for you, Seth. Something that could make you so happy.”  […]

“Why?” Seth said quietly. “Why would you do that? Why would you–?”

“I was angry. So angry I didn’t even think.”

“But why?” Seth said. “You’re my friend. I mean everyone knows you like him but—”

“Those pictures,” she said. “They’re not… They’re not sex, you know? And sex, I can understand, I guess, but…”

“But what?”

She looks him in the eye. “But they were love, Seth.”

Seth’s mother is pretty vicious about the whole thing, and his father is kind of sweet but entirely bumbling and unavailable. His friends abandon him. Gudmund’s parents send him to boarding school. And Seth is left entirely alone, shunned when he has to go back to school on Monday. And so he walks into the sea.

And here is where you’re going to permit me a small fantasy about a novel that is already a fantasy. Here’s where I am going to rewrite this ending, not because I want anything about this novel to change, but because I can so easily imagine a different ending that I just need to write it down.

What if Monica did send those photos? What if she did send them to everyone in the school? And then, what if the principal phoned on that Sunday, and got together with Seth’s family and Gudmund’s family, and the parents and the kids and the principal and the school staff all worked together to come up with a strategy to not just handle but maybe even celebrate these two kids? What if, on Monday morning, a black stretch limousine (remember, you’re indulging me here) pulled up at the school, and out of that car emerged — in hot pink T-shirts, or maybe tuxedos and formal wear with hot pink bowties, or for God’s sake in just their regular clothes — the principal of the school, Seth’s parents, his younger brother, Gudmund’s parents, Seth, Gudmund? What if they smiled and held hands, all of them? What if they invited everyone who supported equal human rights and diversity and openness for all to stand with them? What if the principal read a prepared statement to that effect — and also cited the ways in which the school would support Seth and Gudmund and any other queer and allied students, and how it would watch out for and deal with bullying? And then, what if, one by one and then in groups, more and more and most (all?) of the student body, and the faculty, came over to stand with Seth and his boyfriend and their families? And then, what if everyone went into the school and learned about geography and trigonometry and shop and got on with their lives because gay teens are just another fantastically ordinary part of life?

What if?

I’m not big into sci-fi and fantasy as a genre, although maybe that’s changing — Patrick Ness has a whole bunch of books out there, and I think I’ll be checking them out. I’m still waiting to get to the end of More Than This and to find a happier ending for Seth and Gudmund. Maybe, somehow, they’ll get the ending that they deserve — if not my particular fantasy, then something else, something a writer as skilled as Ness can imagine for them. I’m holding out that his ending will be something wonderful and that I could never have dreamed up. That would make me happy.

The sad thing is that it doesn’t actually take too much to turn my particular fantasy into reality for thousands of queer kids.

PHOTO CREDIT: SUSAN GOLDBERG

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