Seven American Nights -- Ending

The story ends with "Do you think this is his handwriting?...Perhaps. Perhaps."

And perhaps not. This adds K+1 to the abstraction. Nadan's account is already unreliable because of drugs he may have taken, his excisions, and other omissions. What if some of the story is forged? We know the museum curator has a machine that can forge handwriting, and another that can compose stories. It's not implausible that it could do so in Farsi.

Suppose the U.S. government decided that Nadan needed to disappear. (He seems to have stumbled into information about a major international plot. Details are covered in the time-line here). They might have planted the notebook to lay a false trail for the investigator. I don't think the whole thing is forged -- that would be too simple of a "closed loop." The notebook is not of American manufacture; it wouldn't be so easy to replace the whole thing. But if the forging machine can wield a pen it would be easy to add a misleading ending.

There has to be evidence beyond the notebook that Nadan has gone to the Bay of Delaware. But if the ending of the journal account has been faked, then so could that evidence. In my view, the notebook is just one piece of a false trail. The government killed Ardis and framed Nadan for murder. Openly arresting him on false charges wouldn't have served their purposes. The family and their lawyers would visit him in jail and details of the plot might be revealed. The authorities wanted him silenced, so they framed him as a fugitive wanted for murder. That way the family would be afraid to demand the full co-operation of the police in finding him.

A possible start for the investigator would be the hotel manager saying that Nadan checked out, porters who put his luggage in a wagon, etc. Such witnesses could be lying, of course. The police could also tell the detective that they wanted to arrest Nadan and that their investigations showed he fled north.

Where does the forgery begin? The story of the glass of alcohol is very fishy.

"I carried with me the bottle we had bought, still nearly half full; and before she pinched out the candle I persuaded her to pour out a final drink for us to share..."

There's a strong implication that Nadan drank some of that bottle. Ardis would be very suspicious if he didn't. And if she drank half a bottle of strong spirits by herself she would hardly be in shape for much action at the end of the evening. But Wolfe has established that Nadan doesn't drink (p. 362, Orb IODDAOSAOS). Nadan can't change character without explanation. He wouldn't break his principles just for a chance to see her. There were simpler ways; he could have had an extra candle and matches in his pocket and left his pants in easy reach of the bed.

The story is melodramatic and absurd. It has to be a lie. That's why it has perplexed so many of us. Before, we were left with impossibilities:

  1. Ardis had some ugly deformity that couldn't be detected by feel, such as discolored blotches on her skin. The violence of his reaction makes this impossible. He might be disgusted and break up with her, but that would be all.
  2. Ardis herself was the werewolf he tried to kill. The Osman Aga story gives a scientific origin for the beasts. There's no way that a non-supernatural mutant woman could morph her skull into the inhuman shape Nadan saw (blunt muzzle, low brow like an macaque) and then back to her beautiful self the next day. Wolfe can't be asking us to believe this; it would destroy the story.
  3. Ardis was not the werewolf, but had some hidden deformity that instantly identified her as the same sort of creature. Nobody has been able to figure out what this could be.

Nadan would have no reason to fabricate this incident. From at least that point on, a forger is writing for him.

But where does the real writing leave off and the forgery start? The story is loaded with parallels to Holy Week, the last week in the life of Christ. Jesus was arrested late on a Thursday night. If we follow this pattern, all of Friday needs to go into the forgery. This is where the exposition gets really obvious, as Ardis lays out the story of treasures in the interior and the creatures there. It lays the foundation for the false ending. Nadan becomes much more love-sick and his determination to see her is stated several times, again telegraphing the ending. It creates a clumsy cover-up story for the fact that Mr. Tallman and Golam Gassem were seen together by Nadan and written about in the last real section of the journal.

To confirm the forgery starts here, Wolfe inserts a huge continuity error (p. 378): "We walked north along the bank of the channel until we reached the ruins of the old tomb..." (the Jefferson Memorial). Nadan's hotel is somewhere across the river from East Potomac Park, probably near the Arena Stage. To reach "The Jeff" from the hotel, they couldn't just walk north. They would have to turn west and cross a bridge, exactly the same bridge where robbers lurked a few days before (p. 353). We are told that was the only access to the park island by land (p. 351). Nadan's sense of chivalry would never allow him to lead Ardis into a possible ambush. Earlier in the week, full of overconfidence, he faced the robbers alone. But with Ardis, and with a pistol so low on juice he had a nightmare about it (p. 370)?

Rejecting the forged ending disposes of a contrived coincidence: there is no reason to believe that the Dahl couple Nadan disturbed on the night he saw the were-beast was any relation to Ardis. There were several Dahls in the book and her name was probably a stage-name. The family connection was just a hook created by the computer to tie the false story together.

Here are more indications that the forgery theory is correct.

  1. The curator's idea of scent as the primal form of communication is interesting. He smokes a pipe in the theater, possibly to mask his own scent of excitement. He example of the scented letter falsely declaring passion is exactly paralleled when Ardis leaves a scented note in Nadan's hotel room. Did the curator suggest this idea to her?
  2. The curator had two documents to show Nadan. One was the machine-written forgery, an example of a "closed curve" in which all original meaning was lost. The second was a blank piece of paper. I suggest this was the simplest possible example of an "open curve." No matter to what level of abstraction you go, a blank paper's information is not lost, because there is nothing to lose. Mathematicians like these zero cases. I think this was a line of baloney intended to make Nadan think the curator was a harmless academic. It's also a nice little joke by Wolfe. To him, a story which conceals nothing is no story at all.

    It's also an elaborate form of the question "What is truth?". I suggest the curator is meant to be the Procurator, Pontius Pilate. If so, he has a role in condemning Nadan to death.
  3. Did Nadan tell anyone he was keeping a journal?

    He told the curator, "I had been writing a great deal before I came here." That could be letters, but if they intercepted his mail and found they weren't that long, then they might deduce there was a journal.
  4. What else did he let slip to the curator?

    He praised the acting of Bobby and Ardis. Soon after, they became involved with him. The police probably orchestrated this.
  5. Any other indications of early police interest?

    The night he encountered the werewolf, Nadan had a feeling he was being followed. Just before the werewolf attacked "a flicker of scarlet caught my attention." He attributed it to moonlight, but why would that be scarlet? More likely it was the red targeting beam of his shadower's gun. Nadan had no time to aim. The shot that killed the werewolf was probably not his own.
  6. Any other cases of unusual luck that might indicate the police plot?

    The disappearance of Terry from the theater, leading to Nadan's performance on the night his room was searched.
  7. How does the style of the supposed forged part compare to the rest of the writing?

    It's a bad pastiche. " one way or another I will see to it that I never return to corrupt the clean wombs of the women of our enduring race." Nothing that Nadan wrote before is that bad.

    The next paragraph is supposedly written in the midst of an LSD trip, but it's in complete sentences with perfect grammar and punctuation. If it were real he would scrawl a few disjointed words or write nothing at all.
  8. Nadan was convinced that all he had left of the eggs was candy (p. 370). The next day, he is afraid one of the remaining eggs will cause despairing madness (p. 377). He doesn't even consider that the drug might be in the stolen egg.
  9. Nadan says of the Good Friday procession, "...their dead leader lifted up...". This is contrary to Islam, since they venerate Jesus as a prophet but say he did not die on the cross. Another blunder: "...some mad god before the coming of the Prophet..." -- Islam teaches there was always only one God and the Prophet just revealed that fact.

Here is what Ardis said would happen on Friday. The forgery follows it very closely, but it never happened:

"You will see me tomorrow. You're going to take me boating, and we'll picnic by the water, under the cherry trees. Tomorrow night the theater will be closed for Easter, and you can take me to a party."

"I asked her if she loved me; but she stopped my mouth with a kiss." Ardis is the Judas of the story, betraying him with a kiss. She will die, because the F.E.D. has to kill her with Nadan's gun to make the forgery seem true.

The real ending of what Nadan wrote is on p. 377. In an ironic inversion of Gethsemane, he writes "I will" three times. In other words, "Not Thy will but mine be done." His last two words are "the end." Sometime later that night, the F.E.D. will arrive and Nadan's Good Friday suffering will begin.

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