Last weekend I saw Inception, a film that I mostly enjoyed; I could have done without the alpine fortress/firefights on skis, the relentless soundtrack, and the director’s obvious desire to offset tricky ideas with cool special effects (Thinking got you down? Watch this!) but unlike many audience members, I did like the ending. It was, I thought, a niftily ambiguous conclusion, and it called to mind a polite but on-going discussion I’m having with a writer I know, whose novel features an ending that I find indeterminate but unsatisfying. How a book ends matters to me—if the resolution feels forced, artificial, or worse yet, phoned in, I feel cheated, and perfectly entitled to hurl the offending volume across the room.
While mulling over endings, both ideal and infuriating, I noted that The Millions has a terrific article on this very subject. This is the wonderful thing about the internet, one need not go far to discover that the same ideas you’ve been kicking around in an inchoate, undisciplined sort of way have been thought-through, researched, and then recorded, in clear, lively prose. Or such was my experience with Literary Endings: Pretty Bows, Blunt Axes, and Modular Furniture. In it the, author creates a taxonomy of possible endings, cites examples of these different approaches, and offers up some of her favorites. To my her list I’d add: Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People; Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, Scott Turow’s clever twist in Presumed Innocent; Ian McEwan’s Atonement; Clea, the whole fourth installment of Lawrence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet, in which all manner of hazy details snap into sharp and shocking focus. My husband offered up Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Bleak, but kick-in-the-stomach effective.
Your favorite endings? Least favorite endings?