Thursday, July 29, 2010

All's well that ends well

by Jessica

Last weekend I saw Inception, a film that I mostly enjoyed; I could have done without the alpine fortress/firefights on skis, the relentless soundtrack, and the director's obvious desire to offset tricky ideas with cool special effects (Thinking got you down? Watch this!) but unlike many audience members, I did like the ending. It was, I thought, a niftily ambiguous conclusion, and it called to mind a polite but on-going discussion I’m having with a writer I know, whose novel features an ending that I find indeterminate but unsatisfying. How a book ends matters to me—if the resolution feels forced, artificial, or worse yet, phoned in, I feel cheated, and perfectly entitled to hurl the offending volume across the room.

While mulling over endings, both ideal and infuriating, I noted that The Millions has a terrific article on this very subject. This is the wonderful thing about the internet, one need not go far to discover that the same ideas you’ve been kicking around in an inchoate, undisciplined sort of way have been thought-through, researched, and then recorded, in clear, lively prose. Or such was my experience with Literary Endings: Pretty Bows, Blunt Axes, and Modular Furniture.  In it the, author creates a taxonomy of possible endings, cites examples of these different approaches, and offers up some of her favorites. To my her list I’d add: Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People; Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, Scott Turow’s clever twist in Presumed Innocent; Ian McEwan’s Atonement; Clea, the whole fourth installment of Lawrence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet, in which all manner of hazy details snap into sharp and shocking focus. My husband offered up Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Bleak, but kick-in-the-stomach effective.

Your favorite endings? Least favorite endings?

13 comments:

  1. The ending of The Grapes of Wrath made me go, "What??? No, wait..." but it's the ending it had to be. I would have been annoyed if the Joad family had gone skipping merrily down the lane.

    I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, but it's certainly stuck with me, so it must have done something right.

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  2. Least favorite ending: "And it was all a dream".

    With one exception (which proves there is an exception to every rule), "The Abandoned".

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  3. I really did not like the ending of Justin Cronin's, The Passage. I have to qualify it a little because it's not my type of book, but since all the cool people were reading it, I thought I had to as well.

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  4. least favorite ending ever: The Somnambulist.

    the first 3/4 of the book was great. the last 1/4 was stupid, insipid and downright insulting. goodreads doesn't allow for reviews with zero stars or negative stars so i wrote in my review that the one star i had to give the book should in no way be interpreted as any sort of approval for the book.

    i wanted to sue the author to reclaim all the time i lost/wasted reading his book.

    ...

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  5. Didn't like how Cold Mountain ended. Seemed pointless, like Frazier wanted to be Lucy to the reader's Charlie Brown.

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  6. Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag was mediocre until the ending, which was pretty much perfect.

    Smilla's Sense of Snow has the most confusing ending I've ever encountered. I've never met a reader who was entirely clear what happened--and not just in the "oh it's ambiguous" sort of way like in Inception, but in the "literally, what is occurring?" sort of way.

    C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces is one of my all-time favorite books, but the ending reminds me why I never made a go of religion.

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  7. One of my favorite endings is to the short story "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke. Unlike most apocalypse stories, the ending is very quiet and subdued: "Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out." The show's over. It's done. The world is literally ending and it's doing so calmly. That contrast between what one would expect from an end-of-the-world scenario and what actually happens is captivating.

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  8. I loved the ending to an Agatha Christie novel she published under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott (it's not one of her whodunnits). The book is called Absent in the Spring, and the end is absolutely, tragically true to the character. She wrote another perfect ending for a novel called Giant's Bread.

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  9. I'm sure I've read many of wonderful endings, but all that's coming to mind are the ones I didn't like.

    I read Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers a long, long time ago, and all I remember is that an unpleasant revelation at the very end made me want to throw the book across the room. (I didn't, but only because I was on an airplane.)

    I'm a huge fan of Audrey Niffenegger's two novels, except in both of them I wanted something different from the last few pages.

    The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein could have done without the final chapter, in my opinion, though I can see why it makes a more satisfying conclusion for some people.

    But, man, endings are hard to write, so I sympathize with these writers.

    I did like the ending of Inception, though.

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  10. What and interesting topic. I was devastated for days after finishing Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Still am when I think about it. But however sad, his ending was entirely satisfying.

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  11. Best Ending Ever: Hamlet

    Worst Ending Ever: too many to mention

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  12. I just finished reading Guillaume Musso's Seras-Tu Là? I loved the book, it was literally a page turner. When you thought the story couldn't possibly get any more interesting or exciting, he kept coming up with another twist! I was already dreaming of translating this book from French into English, but it's already been done under the title: Will You Be There? I haven't read it in English so I don't know if the translation is as good.

    Anyway, when I read the last page, it fell flat. I thought, how could you possibly end such a great story like a deflated balloon. There were so many possibilities for a great ending and, in my opinion, he blew it.

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  13. Best ending (though not series ending) would have to be Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead. So heartbreaking.

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