Just Fiction

I’ve been watching the final season of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, and I was all pumped to write about how Sunny Baudelaire is one badass baby. Then I finished the series and felt way too sad. Perhaps expecting to feel anything other than bittersweet at most about something literally called A Series of *Unfortunate* Events, where the narrator repeatedly tells you to stop engaging before it’s too late, and the theme song is called “Look Away,” was foolish of me. But this last season, and especially the second to last episode (or penultimate, as Lemony Snicket would say) seemed especially jarring. The stage is set so that the Baudelaires’ misfortune might finally come to an end and justice will be served. There’s a trial, which the audience knows is probably a sham. There are reassurances that the Baudelaires will finally be happy and safe, that the judges overseeing the trial have been working in the courts for years, and therefore they must be good and just.

By the end of the trial, everything is in chaos, with the Baudelaires screaming to the crowd that the judges are corrupt and the authorities can’t be trusted, which rang much too true considering most current events. The really poignant moments happen when Count Olaf summarizes how each of their guardians throughout the series has let the Baudelaires down, and when Justice Strauss, one of the people who genuinely loves the Baudelaires, realizes she’s failed them yet again. I’ve read the books, I know the story, but for some reason this made me so sad. These kids have tried so hard to get the adults in their lives to believe them about the bad things that were happening, and it only ever put them in more danger. They presumably go on to live a somewhat content life, but we never find out for sure. Life isn’t fair, that’s something we’re told again and again, but in fiction, why can’t it be?

I had the same kind of frustration recently when reading the YA thriller There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins. Oddly enough, for a book about gruesome murders of high schoolers, it was the protagonist’s secret past that got to me. The somewhat spoiler-free version is this: Makani, said protag, was involved in a situation she had no control over, did something bad while she was under extreme duress, and it seemed like she was the only one who got punished for it. Her crappy parents made her feel like it was her fault, hordes of trolls came after her on social media, and when she finally tells her friends, they just reassure her that having “one bad night” doesn’t make her a bad person. No one except her grandma tells her it wasn’t her fault. No one tells her that the other people involved were in the wrong. I wanted to pluck Makani from the book and hug her and tell her how sorry I am that she was treated so unfairly.

It only takes turning on the news to remind ourselves of how unfair the world is, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced our share. Now, I’m not suggesting no one should ever write stories about injustice ever again; it’s just that I, personally, would like to see more stories in which victims are believed instead of shamed, kind people are rewarded, and shitty people are put in their place. Maybe if we write about it hard enough, reality might start to follow suit.