Author | Freelance Writer | Entrepreneur | Speaker and Workshop Leader

Novels: The Importance of Ending

As I’ve written and re-written the ending to The Director of Happiness again and again, I’ve been thinking a lot about endings for novels. As they’re paid to do at places like the Atlantic, they’ve recently run an article about 10 fantastic novels with disappointing endings. I was intrigued. Especially when the central image is a cool line-drawing of the Cheshire Cat. Yes, they did include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol.

They certainly made some interesting selections: Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (perhaps no surprise there), as well as Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, among others. Overall, the 10 choices seem eclectic at best, but what else do you do when you choose 10 among a bazillion?

For me, a disappointing end to a novel I otherwise really loved was Fay, by Larry Brown. It felt like this intricate, sensitive, compelling, literary novel with a third person limited omniscient POV of 15-year-old Fay went a little Hollywood at the end (I won’t spoil it). And maybe it’s not fair to mention Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden since it was an unfinished novel, but the lack of an ending to that beautiful book forced me to swear off reading posthumous novels. I don’t know how Larry Brown’s A Miracle of Catfish got into my library, but there it remains, unread. A New York Times articles discusses the problem of reviewing an almost-finished, otherwise great, novel.

I don’t think readers always mind that a novel isn’t intricately wrapped up. Do you? While it’s always amazing when threads are woven masterfully together, many authors seem to cascade down the waterfall of their plot points and come tumbling down to wherever it sort of, well, ends. I don’t think it’s as easy to know exactly where to end a novel as compared to, say, a poem. Speaking of poem endings, Louise Gluck says, “The door closes. That’s how you know it’s done.” For some novelists it would seem it’s done because they stopped writing. And yet we love some of these authors. Hemingway probably ranks in their among them. John Irving (who knew that’s not his real name?) comes to mind as a less obvious choice. Certainly Thomas Pynchon, but that may be no surprise, as he’s considered to be a “postmodernist” writer.

I wonder what are some of the most satisfying endings for a novel. Any come to mind? Or what other novels would make another list for the Atlantic of otherwise fantastic novels with disappointing ends?

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