Testing Jill’s Resolve

January 3rd, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

‘Cause what is she gonna do? There’s no way she can be here before morning, and by then, we’ll be

filled with appropriate remorse and promising to never disobey her again. Besides, we were quite intrigued by this article about endings — something we, strangely, do well. Do not burst our bubble. Usually we have a clear idea of that final line of dialogue or that last joke or something long before we have a clue about the beginning*.

That’s not to say we know the climax of the novel — that little aspect is generally a surprise to us. It’s the finale, the last words, that have written themselves in our brain and hopefully we remembered to translate them to paper (and, because leaving good enough alone is not our style, probably change more than once before trusting our instincts). It can be argued that the ending makes the book. By way of example, Tom Robbins had us throughout Skinny Legs and All, then we got to the end. And were lost. It didn’t end well, or, rather, the ending didn’t satisfy the anticipation built throughout the story. We stared at that last page for a long time wondering, “Is that all there is?”

Endings are our reward and our return to reality. They should always make the effort of getting there worthwhile:

Patently artificial as they may be, fictional endings behave in satisfying ways that events in real life often stubbornly refuse to. Deaths, divorces and assorted other partings happen — suddenly (or sometimes far too late), messily, incoherently. Even innocently arithmetic endings often remain opaque. The last day of the year comes whether we’re ready to make sense of it or not. We bully ourselves into musing retrospection and halfhearted resolutions, inventing a story to fit the end.

A great artistic ending, by contrast, is both startling and inevitable, mysteriously certain. It clarifies even as it complicates, crystallizes and expands. Think of the snow that falls across Dublin in James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” or the ravishing last scene of “Der Rosenkavalier.” Think of Rosebud in “Citizen Kane” or “Ode to Joy,” that exultant crown of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

On one of our lists (are we banned from those as well? Probably we shouldn’t mention the option), authors and readers were discussing the ever-irritating epilogue. There is a sense on the author’s part that the story is done where it is done. Yet, especially in romance fiction, there is a tendency to tack on an epilogue. It generally accepted that the readers demand more time with the characters, and while we personally find most epilogues to be overly sappy and incongruous with the story that has gone before, perhaps we are the exception:

[David] Thomson believes that film endings are inherently wrenching. “One of the reasons I think movies are often reluctant to end,” he says, “is that we’re so reluctant for them to end. It’s not just the story, but the complete sensory immersion of the form that’s so compelling and absorbing. Because the audience is encouraged to participate on the level of fantasy rather than on an intellectual level, there’s always this sense that the story might linger on. It’s no wonder sequels are so prevalent.”

While we don’t necessarily encourage sequels and often find that revisiting characters is surefire way of sucking the magic out of the original story (there are exceptions, there are always exceptions), we understand the desire. It’s what keeps soap operas on the air for decades. It’s why TV series continue. It is even the reason for Frasier. However, for us, especially in most fiction, we like one ending. A nice, satisfactory, “that’s it, that’s how it should be” ending. Thank you.

* – Present work-in-progress excepted.

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