I loved Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season until I got to the last chapter. The day I finished the book was a grief-stacking day. One grief added to others; and then another. By dinner I was a throat-lumpy, care-worn woman in need of a good gully-washing downpour.
Sitting on the terrace, I explained entire plot structure of Doig’s book and why I was indignant with the ending. My husband is used to these book-spoutings. Curt cocked an eyebrow, and said, “So you wanted it to end in heaven, and instead it ended on earth?”
“But [character x] was flawed and there was no foreshadowing of that. I found it inconsistent. I felt betrayed.” Seriously? Now I’m grieving over a fictional character who misbehaved?
What makes a good ending good? Satisfying? Must every story have a happy ending? Is a fitting resolution believable? How wearisome would be a library filled with happy books, devoid of pain. There is the tyranny of perfect heroes. Often it is the response to the crisis that satisfies or disappoints.
Much to mull over…
Here are some books whose endings satisfied me:
1. Charlotte’s WebAs a child I was appalled that Charlotte died. And I turned my back on the book for decades. I now admire the way E.B. White acknowledges Wilbur’s loss while maintaining his joy. The last paragraph:
Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
2. Light from HeavenJan Karon concludes the ninth title in the Mitford books. There was a diaspora, a scattering, and each book reattaches one section. I wasn’t sure if Jan Karon would withhold the last piece of the puzzle out or snap it into place. At the end there is an unexpected knock at the door.
His hand trembled as he reached out to grasp the hand that reached for his. There was a kind of spark, something electric, as their palms met, flesh to flesh. “We’ve been expecting you.”
3. Little Britches and Man of the FamilyRalph Moody’s endings are velcroed on my mind, twenty years after I read these books aloud to my boys. The family has come through a crisis; the response of the characters ends the books.
4. Lark Rise to CandlefordFlora Thompson’s Lark Rise does not end happily. So powerful, so unexpected, so taut is the final paragraph. It doesn’t have to be happy. But it is fitting.
5. To Kill a MockingbirdThe books ends on the far side of a catastrophe with Atticus on watch being as decent and dependable as every father should be.
And some not-so-satisfying conclusions. These are not books I disliked; it was the ending that disappointed. It would be easy to fill of list of poorly written books, trite and facile fiction. But I could only think of three books which I liked…until they ended.
1. The Whistling Season Someone said about this one, they “were waiting for the shoe to drop.” It ends with a thirteen year old boy confronting adults and then covering up their past. I didn’t like the boy put in the position of a judge and keeping secrets from his father.
2. The Elegance of the Hedgehog The ending seemed very abrupt. It sideswiped me. I couldn’t get over it. This? Is over, like this? It’s hard to explain without explaining.
3. The Count of Monte CristoI never liked that the the Count sails into the horizon at the end. More abruptness.
What endings have bothered you? Which ones were a masterpiece, and why?
This reminds me once again of my English professor who looked ludicrously at us students when we asked for a book with a happy ending, and said, “You ARE English majors, are you not? You can’t ask for a happy ending!” I’ll never forget that! However, I didn’t agree then and still don’t. I believe there are many books that end sadly, but that sadness is appropriate to the story. And some, I can’t imagine any other ending that would be more right, or perfect to the story.
I must smile at your response to the “Elegance of the Hedgehog.” my book group that read it was also frustrated at the abruptness of the ending, and we felt it didn’t really do the story justice.
I just finished a fun novel called “The Supremes at Earl’s All You Can Eat.” Lovely, fun black Southern novel with great authenticity. AND this is the author’s first novel at age 51!
My son is coming to Brazil next week and is bringing me a copy of The Whistling Season. I guess I’ll have to brace myself for the ending.
I’d have to think about this a little more to share endings I’ve liked and disliked, but I wanted to share a little tidbit I picked up in The Story of Charlotte’s Web–that EB White’s wife actually gave him the ending of Charlotte’s Web in a letter to the editor she wrote in his defense. (Here’s my review of The Story of Charlotte’s Web if you’re interested– http://www.hopeisthewordblog.com/2011/07/02/the-story-of-charlottes-web-by-michael-sims/ )
I don’t know, but I had a lovely English professor in college who said he read Romeo and Juliet over again every year, always hoping that it would end differently while knowing that it wouldn’t. He was such a gentleman, Dr. Huff, always living in hope.
I like that, Sherry: always living in hope!
I also agree on The Elegance of the Hedgehog–the ending is brutal and unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I think the author did exactly what she intended to do, and this book is on my mental list of “very post-modern” books. Post-modern books *never* let you hope.
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