Read Michael Chabon’s "The Final Solution" yesterday. I enjoyed it, but couldn’t help wondering if some other author, say Laurie R. King, would have had the opportunity to publish a Holmes pastiche in the Paris Review as this novella originally was published. However, this piece is true interstitial fiction in that it violates the rules of detective fiction by leaving one great
mystery of the story unsolved. Unsolved by the characters, that is. I
thought this was rather magical … [huge spoiler coming]
A mystery is set up in the opening scene. This is a bigger mystery than the murder mystery that will be introduced a bit later. Anyone with a little knowledge of WWII will guess the meaning of the parrot’s numbers almost immediately. The characters in England don’t have that knowledge yet (the year is 1942). I admit I was disappointed when this plot point was introduced, because it was so obvious.
There’s a terrible TV movie based on a mainstream-marketed/alternate-history novel, that came out around 10 years ago I think, where the Nazis (yet again) have won the war. It’s the sixties and an intrepid American reporter in Berlin is getting close to a terrible secret concerning the fate of the Jews. Can you guess what it is? Of course you can, it’s not a secret in our world. I think it’s a cheap trick to use the holocaust for a surprise in a novel, but Chabon does something much different here.
By leaving the meaning of the parrot’s numerical litanies undiscovered by the characters, it allows the reader to reflect on a magnitude of horror and sadness. At least it did me. A mystery is only a mystery as long as it remains incomprehensible, and the effect of hanging it in the ether between reader and text, is a powerful way the approach the vastness of the Crime.