As I’m frantically trying to finish my manuscript (and frustrated that I’m rewriting the ending), it’s made me think about endings of other books — which I’ve loved and which have left me disappointed.
I was explaining to Superman that most books have a “denouement” at the end — a sort of “coming down” period after the final battle against the antagonist (or after the protagonist’s final battle for the goal). It provides a moment for everyone to “calm down,” and for life to return to normal for all the characters. But sometimes this “slow period” seems to go on too long for me, making me feel the book should have ended earlier. Books with surprise endings usually have no denouement, but are often the ones we most remember.
Superman and I talked about some of our favorite endings. He said he remembers really liking the end of “The Stand,” and also “The Godfather.” I must confess, I don’t recall really loving any endings, although I was impressed with the ending of “Outlander” because it never slowed down. And I recall being satisfied with the ending of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” because it left on a high-emotion note, which I thought was good. I remember my 12th grade English teacher loving the ending of “The Great Gatsby,” which did have a long denouement but ended with a heavily symbolic last line: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
A lot of Harry Potter fans really adored the end of the Potter books: All was well. For a story that went on over a course of a long series, Rowling said in an interview that she needed something that was unambiguous and said “it’s over.” That seemed to satisfy a lot of people.
What about you? Which endings do you most recall? Do you like the “end with calm” approach, where everything is given a chance to return to order? Or do you love those surprise endings? And how important is the very last line to you? Do you recall many?