by K. Scot Macdonald
Some novels are easier to end than others. Most of Jane Austen’s novels end with a marriage, or two, or three. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea ends when the old fisherman brings his record-setting, yet shark-eaten Marlin into port. Huckleberry Finn ends with Jim free from slavery and Huck free of his drunken father, who has died. I hope the The Shakespeare Drug has as fitting an ending, but it could have had several other different endings.
Spoiler alert: if you have not read the novel, reading further may spoil some major plot points.
When first envisioned, I planned to have The Shakespeare Drug end when Julie and her son, Pete, make their deal to give up their respective drugs and, therefore, their dreams. The first draft actually ended at that point. Put aside for a few days, the characters and the story still gnawed at me. What happened to Julie and Pete after their deal? Did they keep their word to each other? Did they regret their deal?What happened as the years went by to their relationship?
Once I began to consider such questions, I wondered whether I should answer such questions or whether they should be left to the reader to envision and guess at. Soon, however, I could not let the story go so I returned to the novel and started writing again.
The second draft ended with Julie old and embittered at having given up her dream of becoming a novelist, albeit softened by knowing that she had saved Pete’s health and, possibly, his life by doing so. Pete, however, was also angry over his lost dream. This ending, however, lacked any kicker in the final scenes, it just faded away. I did not like it.
One morning a key change came to mind: Julie could still be a writer in old age. She could still take the drugs to write like Shakespeare. Crucially, by then, Pete would be too old to take steroids to become a football player. The third draft ended with Julie having written her magnificent novel, but having paid for it with her life. Pete finds her and, furious over their broken deal, burns her novel.
That ending lasted for almost a year, although it still did not feel absolutely right for the characters. Would impulsive Pete do such a thing? If he did, would he regret it and, if he did, who keeps just one copy of a novel these days with computers, flash drives and external hard drives?
Finally, after much debate, the final ending was added; the scenes where, months after finding his mother dead, Pete finds the novel on her computer, reads it, loves it and sends it to an agent, who in the penultimate scene, calls it magnificent. Pete has learned to understand her mother’s dream, and maybe his own. Julie has become a novelist and Pete had become the producer of NFL players through his football school, if not a football player himself. Some dreams, unfortunately, have expiration dates.