“Nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody”: 2011 in Final Lines

To find a twitching sign of life in the idea that everyone has a book in them, consider how we conduct ourselves at the year’s beginning and end.

January and December brings out the author in us all. Admittedly, this inner writer has usually only taken Creative Writing 101 in its local under-funded community college, but that doesn’t stop it trying to imbue our year with the novelistic qualities.

No mighty work of fiction is without classic opening and closing lines. And so we try to bring a similar literary structure to our world. New Year’s resolutions are nothing if not our attempts at gifting our lives seductive, zingy opening lines. We construct promises in the hope that someone, anyone, even ourselves, will keep reading the great book of our lives.

But this being December, let’s think about final lines. Now is when we want to write that great pithy last sentence. The best final lines in fiction manage to sum up, quantify and give definition to what went before. All the current ‘Best of 2011’ lists floating around the media ether try to do this. In our personal lives we do likewise. We want a triumphant, usually literal, kiss-off as the bells chime midnight on New Year’s Eve.

And like in novels, the success of our year’s opening lines can only be truly measured once it reaches its final breath.

With all this in mind, let’s silence our inner-writer for a moment and prod our inner-librarian. Let us bring the year to a close by borrowing some of literature’s greatest final lines. What closing sentences from books would you give 2011? Here are a few to get us started.

“Are there any questions?”

After the traumatic story comes the blunt, dispassionate sign-off. Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale seems rather apt considering the deluge of head-spinning news this year. We have plenty of questions about 2011: what US government agencies does Rick Perry want to scrap? what on earth is sovereign debt?; and what is Silvio Berlusconi’s hair made of?

“Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I can speak for you?”

Could you? That would be great. In the final lines of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, the narrator, a cipher for the downtrodden and overlooked, turns and addresses the reader directly. It’s a tantalising offer. In a year when the 99% tried to speak against Western capitalism and Arab citizenry growled against its dictators, their voices were desperate to be heard on all frequencies.

“…the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old…”

William Goldman might have put it more succinctly when he said ‘Nobody knows anything’, but Jack Kerouac’s conclusion to On The Road gets to the same conclusion via a more poetical meander. And 2011 proves this beyond doubt. It was a year when toppled tyrants, Kerplunk economics, Scandinavian massacres, and nuclear tsunamis meant that the death of Osama Bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world and inadvertent architect of much of Western history for the past 10 years, is just a footnote. All bets are off. 2012 awaits to be written.

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Edd McCracken lives in Scotland, works for an ancient university, and writes about culture for fun. Follow him on Twitter:  @EddMcCracken

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