Our Endless Numbered Days
Oh how I wish someone had “spoiled” Claire Fuller’s novel Our Endless Numbered Days for me! It is well written and interesting enough to keep a person reading, but I was immensely disappointed by the ending.
The story of how Peggy and her father go off to live in the wilderness is exciting, what with their bursts of enthusiasm for odd, impractical projects and the difficulty they have learning to feed themselves. Peggy, who is only eight years old at the beginning of the book, insists that her father call her “Rapunzel” which is soon shortened to “Punzel.” He tells her that her mother is dead, and that everyone in the rest of the world has died too, that they are the only people left.
The little girl learns wilderness skills, like how to snare and skin a squirrel, and she eventually learns to split wood. Some of this is not without its gory aspect, and a few of the early scenes put me off a bit. One of these is the fishing episode where her father tells her a story to illustrate his point, that it is:
“important to always look behind before you cast because on that trip he had caught his father’s eyebrow with the hook as he flicked the line over his shoulder. The barb had gone in above the eye, emerging from a fold in the lid….My grandpa had made my father cut through the skin of his eyelid with the fish-gutting knife to remove the hook.”
I should have been warned by stories like this, but I didn’t heed the warning.
I persisted in thinking that this was a survival story. The parts about how they were starving during their first winter were balm for my dieting soul during this pre-holiday season full of recipes. I especially liked this description:
“Hunger flowed over me in waves; bedtime was the worst, when I would feel that my stomach was devouring itself from the inside and I would sit up in bed, holding my cramping muscles, looking around the cabin for something I could eat.”
In the end, however, this is not a survival story. Punzel is with her increasingly crazy father in the wilderness for nine years, until she turns seventeen. Perhaps the spoiler is obvious to you from this bare outline of the plot. It did not occur to me that this single point was going to be the only point of the book; I kept thinking that the book was going to be about something other than the obvious. But no. Here it is, the big secret of this book: Punzel kills her father, walks out of the wilderness, gets back to her mother, and is revealed to be pregnant by the only man she’s ever known.
I don’t know about you, but I call that a disappointment. It’s like I read a whole book when I could have just been told “the moral of the story.”
Well, if you’ve read this far, now you know. Save yourself the few pleasures of this story, which come to nothing, in the end. No one is changed by how Punzel managed to survive, both mentally and physically. She goes back to London and conventional life, where they call her “Peggy” again and she safety-pins a skirt around her waist in preparation for shocking her friends and family.
Have you ever spent hours of your life on a story that fell apart at the end? It’s not just about the moral–at the very end of the credits for the movie Dr. Strange, there’s a warning about not “driving while distracted,” which is kind of funny in its understatement. But the moral of Our Endless Numbered Days is massively reductive, especially in light of that wonderfully paradoxical title.