The End: A Selected List of Best and Worst Book Endings

April 25, 2011

Imagine you embark on a journey. The going may be slow at first or it may be a bit of a roller coaster ride, but when you arrive near your destination you find yourself facing a dead end. There is no option but to move forward and no turning back. That’s the best metaphor I can come up with to describe my experience of reading a book. When your destination becomes a lame ending it can be quite a letdown. I, the reader, have hung on through thick and thin, and my expectation is some sort of satisfying resolution. Yet, more often than not, I find myself closing the book and either finding myself ambivalent or, worse, disappointed. If the book is well written and the ending fizzles, I will sometimes still recommend the book, but not always.

Here are examples of a few books where the ending left me satisfied and a few that left much to be desired.

Best Endings:

1). To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The book summarizes the entire story in this wonderful look back through seasons and life. Brilliant!

2). The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle. Heart wrenching from beginning to tragic end. Fabulous, thought provoking until the bitter end.

3). The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. What a marvelous, often heart-breaking journey of death’s experience of humans. The ending sums up everything so nicely in the last line.  Fabulous! 

4). Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. What an iconic line: After all, tomorrow is another day. Unforgettable.

Worst or So-So Endings:

1). The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

I had other issues with this book. I thought the narrator was a bit pompous, but when she meets her Japanese friend, I am rooting for her. The ending of this book was a prime example of gratuitous death. It was totally unnecessary for the plot. I would not recommend this book mostly because of the ending.

2) The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I loved just about everything in this unconventional book , except the ending, which was corny and a bit hokey. I was ready to bump this book into my list of top ten dog books until the ending sabotaged my experience of the book. I’d still recommend this book and really enjoyed nine-tenths of it, but what a lost opportunity for brilliance.

3). The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. A stream of consciousness that is like the energizer bunny. It just keeps going and going right until the end (when I threw the book down in disgust). Not recommended.

4). Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. A fun read with lots of twists and turns, then near the end our hero jumps from an helicopter and parachutes safely to the ground using his jacket. Really?

Which books hold your favorite endings? What endings ruined a book for you?

My Greatest Weakness Happens to Be the Worst Writing Flaw

September 1, 2010

I have the worst possible weakness for a writer. I have a hard time with beginnings. It’s not writer’s block. In fact, I have no problems launching any new endeavor ___ whether it is a short story, blog or a chapter in a novel. I usually know exactly what needs to happen to carry the plot forward, I am solidly grounded in my character’s point of view, and as you turn the last page there will be a nice tidy arc all present and accounted for. This is true for short stories, chapters and novels. Endings are my forte.
The issue is that my opening paragraphs are, well, lame. I am not exaggerating when I say I have rewritten the opening chapters of novels hundreds of times and it still isn’t stellar. Since the publishing world is what it is and agents and editors only want to see the first few pages of a manuscript, I’m always getting a late start out of the gate. I don’t blame these discerning readers. When a potential customer is leafing through the book, they will do the same thing. These would-be book purchasers scan the first few paragraphs and if they like what they see, they are more likely to travel to the cash register or click the “buy” button on their computer.
No one wants to flip to the end of the novel and have the ending ruined. But how many times have you read a book only to see the conclusion (if there even is one) meander into the ozone? I despise lousy endings and I resent that writer’s get away with it because endings aren’t held to the same standards as beginnings. If I were an agent, my submission process would require the author to provide both the opening pages and the last page. True, you might not be able to tell if the final scene will give you warm and fuzzy satisfaction, but I bet you could get a better idea if the writer is made of the right stuff. You’d also circumvent a lot of “looky-loo” submissions from people who haven’t yet finished their book and are prematurely shopping their novel.