Ending trouble

A friend teases me because I almost always qualify my admiration for a novel by expressing dissatisfaction with the last quarter of it.

As a child, I disliked most endings because I wanted to linger with the characters. After entering their world so completely, it felt like a betrayal to be cast out. As an adult, I’m disappointed because so many endings don’t do the characters, or the story, justice. They rely on tinny epiphanies or trumped-up conflicts, or they simply trail off. (Last year, for instance, Philip Roth finished his otherwise flawless novel, The Plot Against America, with about fifty pages of newsreel summary, followed by a flimsy wrap-up from his narrator.)

Now that I’m bogged down in the final pages of my own novel manuscript, I’m able to appreciate the problem from the other side. Endings are a bitch to write.

In the weekend’s Guardian, James Wood contemplates unsatisfactory literary conclusions:

How often we feel of long novels especially, that their last 50 or so pages are mechanical and overwrought, that the rhythm of the book is speeding up as it reaches home. Even great novels have disappointing endings, like War and Peace and The Portrait of a Lady, in which the novelist seems to admit to us that, having attempted to make his novel almost continuous with life, he cannot really wrench it away from that continuity by bringing it to a close. There is an interesting analogy with psychoanalysis, which “slows down” the treatment of the analysand so that analysis often takes years and years; but then, after so many years, the analysand often finds the termination of treatment a bruising affront to continuity.

(Via Publishers Marketplace.)


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.