I’m going to let you into my head for one scene in Rainmaker, only because I think you might find it entertaining to be there. We’re talking John Byrd’s head and not Starbuck’s head, though. We’re talking about the climax, where Lizzie chooses File.
More so than the other characters, and like John Byrd, Starbuck lives in his stories. And I say that Starbuck has an intuitive, though not literal, understanding that he lives inside a story. Everything’s a story to Starbuck: he sketches them and spins them as spiders do their morning webs, simply as a foregone aspect of the progression of time. Now: Starbuck feels, in his heart, that he’s simply a character in a greater story, though he could never describe it as simply as that. And he knows full well that this is the climax.
The “lonely as dying out there” he describes is the life outside the story. For Starbuck, it’s not riding across the range and looking for new marks to sell his half-baked schemes to. That was never written by the author. In fact, the “out there” is a limbo that characters waver into when the reality of the stage fails them. They fade, like old soldiers or watercolors left in the sun, into Something That Happened once upon a time, as acquaintances whose smiling faces have been superimposed over one another, over years and years of imperfect remembrance.
That is “out there.” It is the lack of story, the end of importance, a place that smells of mothballs and dirt and purgatory. Starbuck could never explain these things in those words, but he knows that smell. It is the opposite of Being.
And that is the way that John Byrd plays the rejection of Lizzie. “Will you come with me?” is not asking, “Will you come into my wagon and ride across the panhandle with me?” Rather, it’s “Will you step outside the black-and-white confines of this story with me to create another story?” Lizzie’s rejection sentences Starbuck to the thing he fears most: eventual irrelevance.
Too collegiate-sounding? Well, in this convoluted curly head of mine, I’m telling you straight up that it’s got about twenty times more raw emotional power for me than the literal, simple interpretation of the scene. With this interpretation, I’m an emotional train wreck by the end of the scene. Starbuck riding off into the sunset just didn’t get John Byrd there. Death of story did.
Process: it’s a funny thing. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.