Endings…

September 20, 2008

I’ve decided. Endings are so hard.

In the past few years I have encountered many disappointing endings (The Color Purple, The Lovely Bones), many perfect ones (The Grapes of Wrath, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), and some that I just don’t know what to do with (Salinger’s short fiction).

Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes is one of the best contemporary novels that I have read in a very long time (likely since I finished my BA).  It speaks deeply and truthfully to the core of the hurt and the spirit of humankind.

The book uses historical fact (Loyalist African-Americans were transplanted at the close of the Revolutionary war to Nova Scotia and other locations throughout the Commonwealth, and their names were recorded in ledgers – these documents can be seen in public archives in Britain, the United States, Nova Scotia, and online through Library and Archives Canada) to shape the story of Aminata Diallo, torn from her home in Africa by the slave trade and taken to the eastern United States, shipped to Nova Scotia, returned to Africa, and finally to Britain to join the abolitionist movement.

The story is told in the first person, and Aminata is one of the strongest, most engaging female narrators in my literary experience, without seeming superhuman or unreal. It truly is an exceptional human story, and so enthralled me that I finished it this morning, having started it in earnest yesterday afternoon.

But as always, I’m tripped up by the ending.  I really dislike it when a fictional narrative tries to be “neat”…that’s what made me shrug at The Kite Runner, which I had loved throughout.  The tidiness in Hill’s book is bothersome, but more believable and better suited to the rest of the narrative.

I wonder why so many authors feel this pull.

I can, perhaps, understand it as representative of the need of all of us for reconciliation and hope.  But I think literature offers better, more nuanced ways to leave readers that way than through the resolution of some messy, but truthful, plot point.

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3 Responses to “Endings…”

  1. “I can, perhaps, understand it as representative of the need of all of us for reconciliation and hope. But I think literature offers better, more nuanced ways to leave readers that way than through the resolution of some messy, but truthful, plot point.”

    You hit it right on the nail Faith. I think this “messy, but truthful, plot point” is a product of our generation. It has become such a common place convention, this happiness. I feel often that people are too nice and too afraid of the gritty truth of reality.

    I’m sorry to say but some people do suffer their entire lives only to die alone or without any acknowledgment. Maybe Lawrence Hill should realize that sometimes it’s alright for the hero, the heroine in a novel or story, it’s more appropriate in a weird way for them to suffer and fade. The consolation is that they’ve written about someone’s suffering and they’ve brought attention to it; we see this in a story or a novel and we comprehend that life may in fact not be a giant rainbow with lollipops.

    But then I’m a just a cynical Liberal Arts student who spends the majority of his free time reading depressing novels about people dying and failing in life, you know… the good stories in literature./ 😉

  2. kiirstin said

    You know, lighter, non-literary fiction falls into this a lot too. That may be one of its deepest failings. I love a happy ending, but I don’t really like “perfect” endings, where everything is tied up neatly and everyone lives happily ever after.

    I just finished a fantasy novel I’ve been waiting to read for a month, and loved it right up until the last… oh, thirty or so pages. And then… it just… was too perfect. Too pat. I hate that. I still enjoyed the book, but I spent a good deal of time imagining how I would end it. It would be messy and difficult and confusing.

    The problem is, if the author goes to all the trouble of creating strong characters, vividly realized, and then fixes everything up for them, it makes the characters hollow. I think in the worst cases, I feel like the character has been betrayed by getting the wrong ending.

  3. […] When books do that, it’s usually their endings: […]

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