Recently my husband and I saw a movie that ended with a few questions still up in the air, and, we asked ourselves, “what happens next?” It was interesting that the two of us, who had seen the same build-up and evolution of the plot and the same characterizations, came to opposite conclusions. That made me think about the endings in novels and how they sometimes leave just an outline at the end for the reader to color in. Let the reader do some of the work!
The endings of stories have been of interest to me since I started this blog more than ten years ago, and below is what I wrote about them then.
“I wished it would never end.” How many times have we said that as we closed our book with a sigh. I’ve caught myself reading slower and slower over the last few pages of a book I’ve loved, just to delay the inevitable!
For an adult ed class on Dickens, I reread A Tale of Two Cities. At the end, the travelling coach carrying Lucie and her daughter, Doctor Manette, Mr. Lorry, and the unconscious Sidney Carton speeds away from Paris in its desperate escape. We know that the unconscious man is really Lucie’s husband Charles and that Carton has taken his place in the tumbrils headed for the guillotine. I waited in vain for identity of the slumbering man to be recognized, for Charles to wake up and realize he had been “recalled to life.”
But Dickens doesn’t give us that scene. He leaves us to imagine it. I can see amazement and joy mixing with horror and guilt when the realization finally comes to them, and they understand what Carton has done. What, in fact, he told Lucie he would do, some 200 pages earlier: “For you, and for any dear to you, I would do anything.” I see Lucie’s misery, as she recognizes the implications of Carton’s vow and feel the unbearable weight of her promise to keep it secret.
My vision of that scene—and yours—is beyond the covers. Our own ending to solve and resolve.