Surprise endings are tricky. They either work or they don’t; people are either captivated or dubiously disappointed. I must confess that “The School” and “Dinner Time” were both extremely strange and vaguely unenjoyable for me. “School” was quite depressing and raised quite a bit of questions: when does bad luck become just bad? How were the deaths uniform and consistent in plants, animals, and even people? Was there indeed something wrong with the school itself? Or was their a saboteur?
I believe the root of the problem was too many questions and not enough answered. On top of that the ending was a walking gerbil which is just odd. The language, depth and vocabulary of the students change all of a sudden and the principal displays public affection with another teacher. As a result the story conveys an unsettling and even worrying atmosphere where children go to learn; the reader gets the sense that the children may not be entirely safe, but from what is still entirely unknown.
Similarly, “Dinner Time” could conceivably be a Mad TV skit or a scene behind a schizophrenic’s eyes. I’m not sure if this bizarre husband and wife team was masochistic, psychopathic, or just plain insane. There is a great deal of anger, frustration and unnecessary pain that I quite simply did not understand. I could not comprehend how this dinner could have presented itself in Edson’s head. Truly, it is nothing but puzzling, and the ending is rather a relief – the reader can finally stop being confused.
Conversely, “A Story About the Body” and “Sleeping” engages the reader by presenting a picture everyone has been in: babysitter (or babysat) and desire, or in it’s basest form, human connection. “Body” was the shortest piece we had to read and also managed to convey nearly the most information of all of them. A man desires a woman because of her expression through art, her dancer’s grace and her captivating eyes. But upon hearing of her loss, he at least is able to keep eye contact when he tells her the truth.
The reader immediately experiences two different sets of emotions: pity for the woman with graceful hands of art, and a reluctant empathy with the man who changed his mind. It would’ve been an undeniably unnerving experience for him and any man, making love to a woman without what some consider is part of the essence of a woman, no matter how much in love with her he thought himself to be. But then he and the reader are presented with an ending in the form of a gift: a small blue bowl filled with water, rose petals and dead bees.
I was completely ignorant of what this might mean and so did brief research on the symbolism of bees and found that the bee has most often been used to represent the soul. I do not know if that is what Hass implied or even intended but it seems to fit best here. Perhaps it is a metaphor for her own body: pretty on the outside (with clothes), damaged on the inside, but still whole – still a woman (naked). Not only was this woman sending him a message, but she was also giving him part of what attracted him to her in the first place: her art.
The reader is likewise quickly intrigued in “Sleeping,” even downright curious as to why Mrs. Winter prevents the hired babysitter from ever confirming the existence of the baby. Is the baby alright? Is it breathing? Does this alleged baby even exist? Whereas “School” raised disturbing questions about the safety of mass amounts of children, “Sleeping” raises thoughts of intrigue, deception, and old fashioned mystery. And the ending is not surprising so much as it merely drives the reader to a hunger to know what exactly Mrs. Winters keeps in the “baby” room. And no Mr. Winter, we do not understand.