Endings & Beginnings

A couple of weeks ago, Steve sent me an article about the most reviled book endings of all time – with lots of reader opinions and contributions.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/bad-book-endings/2020/10/21/b238374c-12dd-11eb-ba42-ec6a580836ed_story.html

I, of course, have opinions about this as well.   I cried for hours at the end of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.  I know it probably had to end this way to have any impact, but it still broke my heart.  The same for A Separate Peace by John Knowles. 

The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly got thrown across the room when I came to the end.  As I was getting closer and closer to finishing the book, it wasn’t coalescing like I thought it should be.  I realized at the last page that it was setting up for the next book.  I hadn’t known it was going to be a series and I was spitting mad.  Eventually I calmed down enough to read the rest of the series and I liked it fine enough but I’ve always remembered the book flinging.

I know several people who didn’t like the ending of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell but it turned out that none of them have actually read the book; they’ve only seen the movie.  I contend that if you’ve read the book, then you know that by the end Rhett is completely done with Scarlett.  No going back for him.  This is the reason that I never read Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley – just so wrong.

Lots more, but it’s your turn.

Any book endings that you abhor?  Or that you particularly fancy?

53 thoughts on “Endings & Beginnings”

  1. My pick for a book ending badly is Bel Canto. As I read it, I found myself liking Ann Patchett’s writing, and yet I thought, “There’s no way this thing ends well.” And then Patchett gave us three endings, one after another, all bad.

    I had the same reaction to a novel I mostly admire: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck seeks to escape Pap, while Jim wants to escape slavery. They slip away from Arkansas on a raft. But the raft can only float south where things are spookier than Arkansas. The actual end seems contrived and improbable.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My lit masters was on Huck in terms of rhetorical analysis, which means addressing that question. About10 of the 56 pages asked the question of the ending in rhetorical terms. Read about 45 published papers and books that all or in part addresses that question. Even the man who helped elevate Twain back into prominence and who first claimed the book’s greatness, even he could not defend the end. A few did, but weakly. When you ask the rhetorical questions about the ending, it fails. But so many said it could not be ended in the rhetoric of the book. I agreed and still do. They are drifting, the primary force in the book, off to hell. How do you let them get there within the terms of the book, which is framed as a sort of children’s book. A few critics proposed endings, but they did not feel right either.
      One of the great defenders of the book, who said it was the basis of much of what he wrote, was Hemingway. I wanted to write a paper on how Hemingway drifted off to hell.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Staggerford. Now there was an ending. Not going to comment so I don’t spoil it for anyone else.
    Scarlet Letter I think is another book hard to end well. Not as bad as Huck, but sort of flat.
    What do you all say about Ishmael on the coffin, the ending of Moby Dick?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always thought the line “everybody dies but the fish and Ish” was funny. I never really spent a whole lotta time thinking about the fact that Queequeg dies and Ishmael lives because he floats on the coffin. I’m sure there’s some kind of symbolism there, but I’m not sure my brain is up to it this morning.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Opening paragraph of Moby Dick. Capitalizations mine. Called a cyclical return. Starts and ends with coffins. you have to be an English major analyzing text to catch the connections a few hundred pages later.
        “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; WHENEVER i I
        FIND MYSELF INVOLUNTARILY PAUSING BEFORE COFFIN WAREHOUSES AND BBRINGING UP THE REAR OF EVERY FUNERAL I MEET and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I QUIETLY TAKE TO THE SHIP.”

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Many modern critics have commented that Moby Dick does not make much sense, and his two best short stories, until the existential angst and conundrums of the 1970’s. I agree. On retrospect I should have had my AP students read Lord of the Flies and then read Billy Budd, Foretopman.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Oh my…. While I recognize the first couple of sentences of Moby Dick from over the years, I never would’ve remembered that there was a coffin on the first page. Never. Thank you Clyde.

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  3. Great Expectations is really interesting in the context of today’s discussion. Dickens’ friend Wilkie Collins objected to the sad ending of the version Dickens created, so Dickens put out a second version in which Pip and Estella meet and (sorta) reconcile. Critics fight about the two versions, although most agree that the original downbeat ending is more coherent and credible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Coincidentally, I just finished Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens. She stated it was Edward Bulwer Lytton (he of the “It was a dark and stormy night”) who instigated the alternative ending to Great Expectations. No matter who pressed for it, the alternative ending was, as you say, out of character and less credible.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I always thought that Garcia Marquez’ ending of A Hundred Years of Solitude, where he had a hurricane wipe Macondo and every one in it away, was sort of a cop out. It felt to me like he just ran out of gas. Anyone could end any story like that unless they were hoping to write a sequel.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Last night I was thinking how people at Sandy’s and my point in life are a two-part series. Up to a certain point their was My Life, which had not ended. Now we are living the bad sequel.
    Life does not obey the rules of Henry James.
    Sorry. Rambling. Distracting myself waiting to hear news, not good news, for two major characters in my life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One piece of GOOD news. My son’s long delayed kidney removal is now a GO FOR TOMORROW. He had been exposed on Friday to Covid. He passed the test, which may not be useful only 2 days later. But dr. is sure he and his ex-wife and his son all had covid way back in March when they thought only temp was a symptom. Bit it is a go

      Liked by 6 people

  6. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Books written by Jonathan Franzen are disappointing to me. I don’t like the beginning, ending or middle. They are supposed “domestic dramas” couched as “serious fiction” because he is a male writer. I just find them depressing and without redemption at any point. Needless to say I stopped reading him entirely. Many female writers who are taken less seriously are much better writers. But of course they don’t get any classification except “Romance” because male publishers are blind to women’s points of view.

    Remember “The Bridges of Madison County” by the professor in Iowa? I hated the ending of that book—it just felt hopeless and manipulative. I never understood Clint Eastwood’s desire to make a (bad) movie out of it. Yuck.

    There is another long book which I found compelling until the end, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by Wrobalezki. This family of farmers and dog breeders in Wisconsin perseveres through hardship to raise their dogs, then the author burns down the barn and kills the dogs (and maybe some of the family) at the end. It was demoralizing. Really, dude? Life might be like that sometimes, but I can read that in the news. I am not spending my leisure time on that mess.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Have your preferences changed as you have aged, Jacque? I ask because mine have. Since I’ve become older (and since my divorce) I’ve come to desire happy endings more than I used to. I’m clearly more sentimental than when I was younger.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I was lucky that before I read Edgar Sawtelle I had seen some kind of a review that likened it to Hamlet. That really helped me when everyone was dead in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I turned on the TV, which was on a movie channel, then punched channel change to be ready to watch watch Confucius Was a Foodie. Show description on the bottom, switching to Julia Bakes, read Brian DePalma’s melodrama about a a disfigured oatmeal pancake and oatmeal crepes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I turned on the TV, which was on a movie channel, then punched channel change to watch Confucius Was a Foodie. Show description on the bottom, switching to Julia Bakes, read Brian DePalma’s melodrama about a a disfigured oatmeal pancake and oatmeal crepes.

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  9. It’s just an opinion, but I have been thinking recently that it is a heckuva lot easier to create interesting characters and compelling plots than to resolve everything at the end. In other words, endings are hard. Good endings just don’t seem possible sometimes.

    The best book I’ve read in twenty years is All The Light We Cannot See. It ended the only way it could have, which I guess is a win.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The problem with fiction that reflects life is this: every life ends. 100% (unless you believe that Jesus came back, but that is a different discussion). The challenge for writers is to redeem the life, and in turn, the book, as meaningful, or a point of despair and meaninglessness.

      Liked by 4 people

  10. Faulkner on the other hand: I like his beginnings and endings. It’s the middle that are often weak, often wordy and full of language fiction games that interfere with the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Who here has read ‘The Screw tape Chronicles’? I haven’t. But a theater did the James Forsyth adapation as a play. It’s really a pretty interesting story, but, for a lot of reason, this particular production was kind of a disaster.

    But it came up again in discussion last night and one person had gone back to the C.S. Lewis original book and had a hard time getting though it.
    Thoughts?

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    1. Hard for me to have the mindset that everything is backwards. Only CS Lewis book I could not read. Did not see the point really.

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  12. I have to say that I have never gotten so invested in a fictional story that I was moved to hurl the book across the room when I didn’t like the ending. Most of the time, the story doesn’t stick in my memory very long either. What I remember was the quality of the writing and the characterizations.
    I don’t always finish fiction I start. I usually give it about fifty pages and if the author’s style or the story irritates me or fails to interest me, I don’t hesitate to move on to something else. Usually I’ll stick with nonfiction to the end. There are a few books I hated but unaccountably stuck with to the finish. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is at the top of that list. I found it aggravatingly sophomoric throughout. Despite its good reviews, I found Ishguro’s Remains of the Day insufferable, probably because the main character was, for me, so unsympathetic.
    This has come up here before, but I was more than underwhelmed—incredulous would be closer—the George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo got positive reviews. I’ve read other Saunders stuff and never been much impressed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you Bill on Bardo. I did finish it but only because I was so perplexed as to why it had gotten so many good reviews, that I felt the need to finish it in case there was some surprise at the end that I needed to know.

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  13. I was upset about the end of Stuart Little as a kid. Since then, though, I guess I give the author the benefit of the doubt. It’s the author’s story, and if that’s the way it ends, well, everything happens for a reason, at least in fiction.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I cannot abide the ending of the Hunger Games Trilogy. I remember reading it aged about 20 and throwing the book across the room because I was so. Angry. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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