Our Reading Lives

Ever After: When The Author Really Nails The Ending

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If you collected all the pressure writers must feel when they are ready to bring their book to its close, it would outweigh the Earth by six or seven times. Like lots of readers, I am all about adding to that pressure. Endings aren’t easy, obviously. The pressure is on, cranked up to eleven probably, to perfectly craft the moment we’ve been waiting for.

I’ve also been known to plot out which bite I would like to be the last thing I taste during a delicious meal—the perfect flavor that sort of sums up everything I’ve eaten, which I intend to savor with closed eyes and a smile, hands raised to signal that no one should disturb me in this very special time.

When I finish a book, I want it to be that perfect bite—a moment which will echo within me, will make me hesitate to start reading something new right away because it would mean losing that taste in my literary mouth. It doesn’t always happen, and disappointing endings are everywhere. But when they’re good, man oh man they are good.

You probably have a handful of criteria you use to measure how satisfying an ending is. Endings are the punctuation mark following the sentence that was our experience reading a book, and we all have our favorites. Are you a question mark person, walking away with something to ponder and mediate on? Do you get a special thrill from an exclamation point? An ellipsis and the mystery it leaves hanging in the air? Do you prefer the tidiness of a period?

I think I’m a semicolon person, by which I mean I love an ending that draws it all in but feels also like a beginning. Something is about to happen next, unseen, undisturbed, but undeniably gaining momentum. That’s my kind of last bite.

I have my collection of favorite endings, and you probably have yours. If I had to award a Grand Champion ribbon to only one, Calvin and Hobbes springs to mind. Bill Watterson breathed so much life into this imaginative kid with bedhead that is just reckless perfection and his friend and coconspirator stuffed tiger that even when he decided to retire, the pair weren’t quite ready to call it quits. The final panels, which you have probably seen, are the only possible way the beloved strip could have ended: with the promise that more dreams, more adventures, more philosophizing, more raging against the machinations of the adult world were coming. Calvin lives; Hobbes lives. Spaceman Spiff lives. They are just going places we can no longer follow, off panel, deep into the unknown blank space waiting to be filled—an adventure that eats its own striped tail and lives forever.