Thursday, June 10, 2010

Novel conclusions

That weird Lost finale a couple of weeks ago continues to spark my interest in how creative works reach a conclusion. I mentioned memorable TV show endings in my last post—but what about works of fiction?

Is there a written ending equivalent to Bob Newhart waking up next to the wife from his first show in his second show's finale? Or, would something like that come off too gimmicky or ridiculously absurd in a non-humorous way? (Because it really is a variation on the old "and then he woke up..." ending).

The story-with-a-twist seems better suited to shorter fiction than novels, perhaps because the reader is more invested with a longer work and would feel let down if the conclusion didn't spring somehow from all that went before. The unexpected ending works for O. Henry stories but after awhile the reader begins to expect them (making the surprise actually unsurprising). I love "The Twilight Zone" but I wouldn't want to watch it every night, nor would I want all shows (or written fictional works) to follow its usual be-ready-to-be-shocked format.

(Don't all good poems end with a little bit of surprise, though? In the best poems, the final lines can be astonishing.)

I know that the journey through a fictional work is as important, or more important, than its final pages. But there are endings I remember and relish remembering (from both novels and short stories). These are the first that came to mind as I began to ponder this topic:


He loved Big Brother. (1984)

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. ("The Dead" by James Joyce)

I do. What a hat! I like it! I like that party hat! Good-by! Good-by! (Go, Dog, Go)

"I saw them come out and I saw that they were naked, unshy, beautiful, and full of grace, and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea." ("Goodbye, My Brother" by John Cheever)

"I'll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country. I will pray that you find a way to be useful. I'll pray and then I'll sleep." (Gilead)

"It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was." (Mrs. Dalloway)

There were many others that were too long to include, or which didn't end quite the way I remembered them (I thought Rabbit Angstrom's last words were about his dead daughter—but, no; I thought Madame Arnoux let down her white hair for Frederick in the last passage of A Sentimental Education, but that was pages before, etc.).

And now I come to a place where I must write a conclusion to this post—I've gone way over my usual eight inches of screen space, but I can't think of a graceful exit. The phone isn't ringing, no one is at the door, the tea kettle hasn't been put on the stove.

It is 9 a.m. and I must begin my day.

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