Paul Wells admits to be a ‘serial book-unfinisher’ over here at macleans.ca, & it got me thinking: just how important *is* an ending, anyhow? Have our lives become too darn busy for proper resolution?
Or have endings just ceased to be important?
Someone once said that you can tell how much you’re loving a book by how you approach the ending. If you rush forward, skimming pages, then you’re bored & want it done with. If you savour it, lingering over each page turn, making sure to take in each word, then you want it to last forever & you’re already mourning its passing.
I’m finding lately that I’m barely reading endings at all. Particularly with modern mainstream/literary books, they seem to stop rather than finish. They have become stylish little accessories that you can dip in & out of. Journey & progress (ie. story) are not so relevant. You don’t need to know the ending to feel as though you’ve finished with the book.
It’s like mood music. It’s not there to be the focus of your attention & unless you have something else to do, a few chapters in you’re maybe feeling like you’ve had your fill.
Take, for example, Chole Hooper’s A Child’s Book of True Crime (which happens to be on the shelf in front of me): an elegant, smart book about a woman obsessed both with an affair and a murder. It pushes forward with a chilling sense of inevitability, only to finish with a kind of off-hand Clayton’s confrontation* and a sense of issues put aside rather than resolved.
The ending might be trivial, yet I still like the book.
When I read it I remember thinking that ending was probably a believable depiction of how things go in real life. Life can be sort of dissatisfying and frustrating, too. Life can make you think that maybe there’s _more_ somewhere else, some place just beyond reach. More than this, more than what you have. More than just a *suggestion* of murder, for example.
And, in Hooper’s defence, I do actually remember the ending at least. There have been plenty of books where I couldn’t tell you what actually happened on the last page, if anything. But I’ll always remember how a book made me feel, & perhaps that’s more telling than one little, final event at the back.
Years ago I developed what I call the ‘hundred pages rule’. That is, I read to page 100 before I quit on a book — because it often takes me a while to like a new story. I have to get into it rhythms & mindset. So, I read to page 100 to make sure of my opinion of the book before I let myself give up. If, at page 100, I’m still not really into it, I stop reading. Maybe I’ll try that story some other time, maybe I won’t, but I make sure to get at least that far.
Now I think I need another rule: the ‘quit whenever you’ve had enough’ rule. Whether that’s page 101, page 340, or three pages from the end, I find I no longer believe the ending will make that much of a difference to whatever opinion I’ve already formed.
After all, there’s a heck of a lot of good books out there, & life is way too short.
* Clayton’s confrontation: the confrontation you have when you’re not having a confrontation.