The book comes to a close around Thomson’s nineteenth year, when he decides to forgo Oxford in favor of film school. For a while it looks like we’re going to get a real Hollywood-style ending, complete with a chance encounter with an old flame and lots of flirting and making out. But Thomson can’t resist pulling us out of the action for one last aside. He wants to tell us that the book isn’t everything he had hoped it would be, that it inadvertently allows his father to overshadow his mother, who was in reality a much stronger presence in his life.
In short, he wants to tell us that stories ask many more questions than they can ultimately answer. “Stories leave things out and introduce a shape, or an order, that no one noticed at the time or the moment,” he writes in the coda. “And if this book … ends with a large decision, still the larger quandary that prompts it is left unsettled. So I must admit that I recognize that you might feel you need and deserve more. I feel the same about myself.”
Thomson is being a bit hard on himself. Ambiguity may be unsettling in our own lives, but it is exactly what imparts three-dimensionality to a narrative, and makes us want to turn the page. Leave the tidy endings to Hollywood. Thomson has given us a tender, unsentimental picture of his youth, with all its messiness and mystery intact, and a reader can’t ask for more than that.