In Chapter CCCXLIX of Violet Crepuscular’s epic romance, Oy, Rodney, we were told that only Lady Margo Cargo’s crusty old butler, Crusty, knows what really happened to Lady Margo’s collection of glass eyes, priceless jewels, and Royal Doulton china–and meanwhile, the entire population of Scurveyshire has been deputized to hunt down the aristocratic thief, Sir Robin Banks. We could hardly wait to find out what Crusty knows!
But we are dealing with a literary genius. In Chapter CCCL, Ms. Crepuscular treats us to a kind of soliloquy.
“Dear reader,” she writes, “I cannot but wonder whether it’s time to select a new cover for my epic romance, Oy, Rodney. Lately the Lord of the Tube Socks cover seems inadequate. A letter from former American League batting champion Pete Runnels says it so well: ‘The Lord of the Tube Socks cover seems inadequate.’ I didn’t get where I am today by ignoring Pete Runnels.”
The fiend! See how she tightens the screw of suspense! It is as if Alfred Hitchcock were to appear on the screen in the middle of Psycho and ask the viewers if he ought to change the title. “Perhaps The Birds would be better,” he might say. And you know that he knows we’re squirming in our seats!
Breathlessly we rush on to Chapter CCCLI. Upon my word! Still no Crusty! Where are Lady Margo’s jewels? Her glass eyes? Her Royal Doulton china? Is Crusty in cahoots with Robin Banks? And how are the deputies supposed to hunt him down, when nobody knows what he looks like? They very nearly lynch a traveling professor of phrenology from Oxford, having jumped to the conclusion that he was the aristocratic thief. Only a timely sonnet by Johnno the Merry Minstrel saves him.
We turn to Chapter CCCLII, onto to find, to our dismay, that it hasn’t been written yet.
Is there no limit to the tortures that the mind of a romance novelist can conceive?
Can we even be sure the chapters are numbered properly?