Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Let Us Praise Great Endings

I love to read. No, no. That's wrong. I live to read.
And that's been true ever since I realized that C.A.T. spells cat.
Reading has been the key to the magical doorway of ten million other worlds that I can visit just by opening a book. Or reading a web page, for that matter. I don't know what I would have done as a child if I hadn't had books to take me away from the decidedly non-magical world I inhabited. I went from Alice and Jerry to Little Women and Kidnapped in about two weeks.

My main problem in life as a child (as I saw it then) was that there were never enough books to read. The tiny community I lived in had a library, sure, but what it actually was, was one room with about four book cases in it, and only one of those was for children's books and by the time I was in second grade I'd read every one of them. I remember distinctly reading Mary Poppins from there and a book entitled Marooned On Mars, and I'm not really sure which one was the more otherworldly. Both were fantastic!

My elementary school was so poor that it didn't have a library. Each teacher was expected to bring in and keep a few shelves of books, which they did, but there were never enough to keep me going past the first two weeks of school. I remember reading one book over and over in the second grade which was about a girl who had to go to the hospital to get her appendix removed. In the more realistic manner of writing children's books that was accepted back then, it even talked about the little girl having to get an enema. I had no idea what an enema was, so of course I asked my teacher.

"What's this?" I asked Mrs. Hendry, pointing to the word with my chubby little finger.

"Uh, hmm. You should ask you mother about that," she said.

However, I did not. Even at the age of seven I somehow knew that discussing certain things with my mother was not an option. So I spent the next few years of my life looking up the word "enema" in dictionaries.

This is quite possibly why I so fear all things medical.

Books have had an astounding and profound influence on my life and that's just all there is to it. They continue to do so but I find that as I grow older, it has become harder and harder to find books that make me sit up and pay attention. Now I must admit that I have become somewhat of a lazy reader. I haven't stooped to Danielle Steel yet, but I'm not exactly reading Proust if you know what I mean.

I get most of my books from the library (which to me, is the highest temple of civilization) and I choose my books with some sort of subconscious selection system which is probably based on cover art (yes, I do judge a book by its cover), title, author's photo, back blurbs and possibly a random sampling of a sentence or two inside.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I was talking to Miss Maybelle yesterday and she said she'd read four books in one day. None of them, she said, was great. We discussed the endings of books and we agreed that a book's ending can make or break it. I think this is very true. Last night I had a touch of the insomnia and found myself reading the end of a book I'd been enjoying immensely for the last several days.

However, the ending was just...predictable, flat, and not worthy of all the pages which had come before it and I was more than disappointed.

Ending a book (or even a story or a blog post) well is a rare talent. I think some of the best book endings I've ever read come from Larry McMurtry. His writing is plain but not simple and he's a natural born story teller whose characters swagger and sweat and dance and cry and make huge mistakes and take on great things and dwell on the past and frequently act without thinking.

Just like all of us.

I especially love the ending of his novel The Evening Star. I'm not sure why, but to me, it was practically perfect. I wrote Mr. McMurtry and told him that. So far, he hasn't written me back, but I didn't expect him to. He doesn't owe me a response. He wrote that book with the perfect ending and I'd be a selfish little self-absorbed reader to expect more than that.

And you can't have a great ending unless it's been a pretty great book. To my mind, for an ending to really matter, the story and the characters have to been so engaging that when you come to the end of the story, you don't want it to end. And yet, it must, and I want to be left with a feeling of satisfaction and melancholy when I put that book down.

When I put my book down last night and turned off the light, I just wasn't satisfied. The ending didn't live up to what came before it. It was like a dirty hem on a beautiful dress. Like someone serving you a terrific meal of fresh, well-cooked ingredients and ending it with a bowl of sugar-free Jello for dessert. It made me think twice recommending the book. It made me doubt the author's skill which before I finished the book, I had been quite sure of.

Some book endings just leave you panting for more. They aren't horrible endings but there's no resolution at all. The melancholy is there but not the satisfaction. I'm thinking of Gone With The Wind here. I remember reading that entire book in one huge gulp, getting to the end and reading, "I'll think about this tomorrow, when I'm stronger," or whatever the last words were and thinking, "WHAT?"

Give me a break.

Give me an ending!

And speaking of endings, this blog post requires one too so I'm going to ask you about your favorite book endings. Which ones left you thinking, YES, YES, YES! (sob)?

Are there any that come to mind?

Because if there are, there's a pretty good chance the book was fine enough for you not only to have cared how it ended but to remember it too and maybe I'd like to read it.



  1. I am sorry to say, I have read so many books. But I cannot recall just now the Best ending. Mostly, because I used to inhale them, gulp them down! I spent most of my chilhood in libraries. And knew the Dewey system by heart. (Back before I poured big black holes into my head from assorted bottles).
    I love the smell of old books and the sight of an overflowing bookcase gives me a readers high :)
    I have never not finished a book, good or bad. Well except for Clancy's Debt of Honor...but I keep trying with that one too.
    This was a great post. Thank-you for the flood of memories!

  2. The book I just finished, Iron Council by China Mieville, ended near perfectly. I couldn't figure out for the life of me how he was going to pull it together in a way that was neither super fakey or super depressing, and then he did.

    You know who can't end a novel to save his life? Stephen King.

    Oh, and in terms of classic endings that really work, there's always Animal Farm.

    "Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

  3. "But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

    Another George Orwell. The one that awakened the fire and anger of teenage rebellion towards government. Right up until the end I really did think "the hope lies in the proles"

    However, I can't help but disagree about a good/bad ending ruining a book. If a book is well written with strong or poetic prose I can pretty much forgive it anything

    Awesome post and one I'll forward to Mrs FL

    Fat Lad

  4. Case in point

    1) Remainder by Tom McCarthy (really struggled to remember the title of this one you should have seen my google search strings) awesome thought provoking novel with profound questions about reality and perceptions but with a lacklustre finish.

    2) The Road by Cormac McCarthy

    a book that actaully doesn't go anywhere but is much more profound (I believe) for it

    Just my 2p worth

    Fat Lad

  5. I have to agree that the ending is so important. Too many books today seem to pause and not end, leaving that little bit left undone so a sequel is available.

    Your post prompted me to remember Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities," Anne Tyler's "Celestial Navigation," and Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying." Those were great endings!

  6. Great post. I am having a lot of trouble thinking of a book with a really great ending. I think that generally I am disappointed by endings. If the book has been great, it is so rare to find an ending worthy of it.

    DTG- You are so right on about King. He writes some great stories, and then just craps out on the ending. It's like he gets bored and just needs to wrap them up. So disappointing!

  7. I live for books,unfortunately I tend to speed read so get to the endings far too fast, often I finish a book desperate for it to be just to be slightly longer.

    On a recent holiday to the States I managed to acquire several books much to Fat Lads amusement,especially when he ended up carrying most of them in his luggage.

    Favourite ending is so hard to chose, ask me my favourite book and I can answer in an instant - Homer 'The Illiad' (not just for the book but also the memories surrounding reading and rereading this book at various times of my life).

    Best ending is a question that will leave me daydreaming for days over books I have savoured, several longtime favourites spring to mind, Herman Hesse 'The Glass Bead Game', Mitch Albom 'Tuesdays with Morrie', Audrey Niffenegger 'The Time Travellers Wife', Knut Hamsun 'Hunger' and Cormas McCarthy 'The Road'. All of these books I have read and reread but Best ending....... difficult, I'll have to get back to you

  8. You have all given me such great endings! Yay! Thank-you. There are books I obviously need to read...
    I had forgotten how the Orwell books ended. Not happily, huh?
    I believe I should re-read some favorites, too, perhaps. And maybe I'll start with Marooned on Mars. For the life of me I can't remember how it ended but since it's been well over forty years since I read it, I may be forgiven.

  9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

    ... Didn't want that book to end..ever..

    and it turns out.. there are others that follow in a sequence, but I can't bring myself to read them.. because I loved the first book too much. Go figure.

  10. aj: A swiftly Tilting Planet is well worth reading.

  11. 100 years of Solitude is all about the final parapgraph.

  12. And that's a lot of Solitude, Juancho. Dang, I need to read that book again. I am filled with the spirit of magical realism today.

  13. Powerful ending, boocoo magic...read "Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. Also, Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy..." The Dragonbone Chair," "Stone of Farewell," and "To Green Angel Tower," is one of my all time favorite fantasy selections that always left me gasping for more. But the Mac Daddy is Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" saga that he began in 1984, and was left hanging as he died working on the twelfth volume in 2008 and being finished as we speak by an associate. I have found the ending to each of these mammoth tomes to be at once criminally satisfying and sadistically teasing.

  14. Dang, B Boy. You should write book reviews. I'm serious.


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