Thursday, March 28, 2013
I am reading a great book at this very moment (OK, not this VERY very moment, but I was a few minutes ago) that I am afraid to finish. I'm right near the ending and I'm doing this blog rather than finishing the book. This is because I've read a number of otherwise-brilliant books lately with rather disappointing endings. The most recent was the Hugo- AND Nebula-award winning Among Others, by Jo Walton. I so enjoyed the act of reading this book — page after page made me happy — until about 4/5ths of the way through, when I began to get nervous. It was clear by then that Walton was probably not going to wrap up the dozens of dangling threads she'd left. She was also building up toward a Supreme Ordeal (of the Hero's Journey type) that was unlikely to pay off. It almost couldn't pay off, given what she'd done so far: the nemesis hadn't even been introduced, only vaguely alluded to.
I know should forgive Walton. I am terrible at endings, myself. I've written probably a dozen for my historical novel and absolutely hated them all. I realize a satisfying ending is perhaps the hardest part of a novel to pull off, and I wish it didn't weigh so heavily on a novel's value. If 90% of a book is fantastic, why does a bad ending mean you discount the whole book? A bad beginning doesn't. All Stephen King's books start off wobbly: he's terrible at beginnings. But his endings are usually great, so we love him.
So: what is it that makes a good story ending? Or a bad one, for that matter? I'm curious to hear other's views of this: what books have you read, or movie have you seen, that did it particularly well or failed spectacularly? Why?