It’s hard to think of a mother who plans to kill herself as a heroine.
Sometimes, reading simply provides appreciation for the problems we own by escaping into someone else’s, but readers want a heroine, despite insurmountable odds, to triumph. With FIVE DAYS LEFT, some readers struggle with the “Brittany Maynard” premise. Because there’s a child involved. Because, they think, what if the daughter finds her? What if? What if? All these questions are propel readers forward.
FIVE DAYS LEFT is structured around Mara’s problem: loss of control. A universal fear – being completely dependent on those around us for our every need. We’ve all thought, “Please, not like that!”
Mara has one thing in her corner. She “knows” how she will die, if Huntington’s takes her.
It will be progressive. And it won’t be pretty.
But, she’s decided to take that back. The how she dies part. Because it’s all Mara has. And if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself, damnit. Under the banner of protecting her family’s memories, sparing them “seeing her like that”, Mara has made a pact with herself to end her life on her own terms, when the time is right.
THE TICKING CLOCK
All stories have them, so the audience knows when they get to turn out the light, get a snack or… pee…
Many readers wrestled with Mara’s decision to end her life based on peeing in her yoga pants. There’s several ways this opening scene would function better, revealing more without continual flashbacks to push the plot along.
Sure, untimely pee is embarrassing, but public humiliation is only truly PUBLIC when some you KNOW sees something you’re trying to hide. If Mara had been with her daughter, whom she’s trying to give a “normal” childhood or had she been approached by a colleague from her law firm, well… readers would have squirmed more during the market scene.
A way to make it better? Include references to the existing scene with rude little boy, but let this be the SECOND peeing incident. The public humiliation is worsened, revealing the thing Mara’s been denying/trying to hide due to her birthday’s approach. Even a workaholic, driven lawyer would have second thoughts about her “plan.”
The decision on the first-pants-wet makes her seem suicide-happy because Mara’s degenerative health profile has not been explained at this point in the novel. The decision to end her own life based on wetting her pants ONCE, coupled with remarks about her “sexy” kitchen and replacing herself with a car as a gift for her husband (This is no moment of humanity. It tells the audience she believes her worth is equal to a vehicle: replaceable, shiny, only good in top condition) are misplaced. Maybe Mara doesn’t get this because she’s an adoptive mother, but bladder issues during and after carrying a child are part of the way life works. TRANSLATION: It doesn’t just happen to the elderly. These combined assumptions make Mara seem shallow, not simply depressed. This conflicts greatly with the love shown by the people surrounding her. If Mara had one moment of internal reference to jumping the gun emotionally in a previous situation, based on viewing herself this way, readers would see this as an internal, universal flaw, making her more relateable.
PROBLEM, PROBLEM, WHO SOLVES THE PROBLEM?
The heroine, naturally. Mara’s ironic problem is that her gift to herself, her gift to family is seen by some as robbery. Robbing her family of time to pour love on her and learn things about one another before the final end. But there are always what-ifs in retrospect, right? Everyone wants MORE TIME. And Mara, she wants time the way she wants it. Readers can identify with this desire, can say, well at the very least, she deserves THAT. Because of these desires we have, wills are written, letters to open on landmark birthdays, weddings, videos about our pride in accomplishments for graduations … All methods to comfort, to control what happens after we’re gone, so things don’t fall apart. Control when life is chaos.