Just as Seth Grahame-Smith imagined what would happen if he combined Jane Austen with zombies and Abraham Lincoln with vampires (huge sales and movie deals, it turns out), I wonder how the lives of beloved literary characters might be altered by the addition of a question mark to the titles of their novels. Enjoy this alternate literary history, in which tentative authors rule the shelves:
Crime and Punishment?, by Fyodor Dostoevesky
Raskolnikov commits the premeditated murder of pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna and the unplanned cover-up killing of her sister—but he doesn’t panic at the scene, and gets away with some serious loot. He uses the money from the stolen goods to enroll in law school, untroubled by guilt or shame. Taking this lack of moral conflict as permission to indulge in further amoral behavior, he goes on a bender/gambling spree/tour of Saint Petersburg’s brothels, and wakes to find Sonya in his bed and a small fortune in winnings in his purse. Raskolnikov deflects detective Porfiry’s psychological cat-and-mouse game with ease, and, after completing his law degree and marrying Sonya, employs his intimate knowledge of criminal motivations and means as a stylish, highly sought-after private detective—like a bougie Russian Sherlock Holmes.
Emma?, by Jane Austen
Returning from the wedding of dear Miss Taylor to the worthy Mr. Weston with a self-satisfied smile on her lips, well-intentioned meddler Emma Woodhouse is suddenly set upon by a band of gypsies driving a stolen carriage, suffering a head injury and severe amnesia. Back at Hartfield, the shock of Emma’s misfortune sends her already anxious father into a catatonic stupor, leaving her care to Mr. Knightly, who patiently helps Emma regain her memory. Their conversations during her convalescence are playful and illuminating, and without the distraction of matchmaking and constant social duties, Emma and Mr. Knightly are free to acknowledge their mutual affection and longing of their hearts. But, her eyes open to how sheltered her life has been, Emma leaves Mr. Knightly and her fully recovered father to go on a journey of self-discovery, a la Eat, Pray, Love without the divorce and depression.
The Sun Also Rises?, by Ernest Hemmingway
The sun does not rise for these iconic characters and archetypes of the lost generation, because they are literally lost: lost in a Lovecraftian realm of unknown darkness and constant terror. Jake, Lady Brett, Cohn, Bill, Mike, and for some reason Gertrude Stein are inexplicably transported from the Latin Quarter to a supernatural plane where they’re surrounded by soulless ghouls and bottles of gin that empty at a touch. Gargantuan but undeniably majestic demon bulls attack the expats relentlessly. The good news is that all the black magicks about the place heal Jake’s emasculating war injury!
Madame Bovary?, by Gustav Flaubert
As soon as Emma Bovary discovers she’s pregnant, she leaves boring Charles, transforms her appearance, and reinvents herself as a jewel thief, using the cover identity of a widowed young mother to case upscale stores and fancy parties. Charles Bovary reports his wife’s absence, and when Emma can’t resist sending him a small but rare ruby as a symbolic kiss goodbye, the authorities suspect Emma to be the thief they’ve been tracking. She again reinvents herself, this time as deposed Russian royalty, before setting sail for New York. She starts a salon there and is never caught.
The Metamorphosis?, by Franz Kafka
Desperate to communicate with human beings after he’s transformed into a giant insect monster, Gregor Samsa leaves his apartment and begins waving at passersby like an eccentric performance artist in Times Square. Fortunately, a world famous cryptozoologist catches his act, takes him in, and teaches him sign language. The cryptozoologist and a team of experts determine that Gregor should must cocoon himself in his insect monster secretions. He does, they harden, and after a number of years Gregor emerges as a beautiful butterfly monster, which is clearly an improvement.
What book might be improved by a question mark?