The End

Have you ever read any books so captivating that you disappeared inside the world of their characters, that you stole away and read another page and another page every chance you got? And when you got closer to the end, your heart filled with melancholy because you’d soon be saying goodbye to that world? And then the ending just kind of…sucked?

Yeah. I hate that, too.

That happened when I read Nicholas Evans’ first novel, The Horse Whisperer. While not exactly the greatest of writing, I let myself get tangled up in the love story. I hung on the central conflict of Grace MacLean’s heart: her husband, Sam, or the cowboy, Tom? Oh, how she vacillated! How she was torn asunder! And then…just when you think she’s chosen to give up her city-girl ways and ride off into the sunset…Tom falls off his horse, hits his head on a rock and dies. (FYI, the movie has a very different ending.)

I threw the book across the room. Not that I harbored any secret passion for the dude; cowboys aren’t my style. But Nicholas, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME? You get me all worked up for the resolution of the central conflict and then—surprise!—you take away the protagonist’s responsibility. Completely abdicate your role as the author by basically saying, “So much for your decision-making capabilities. Let’s just take that silly little problem away from you.”

Bah.

I just had a similar, although not as vociferous, experience with a book I just finished reading, The Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent, a historical novel set during the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read it…) The protagonist is, you guessed it, the heretic Martha Carrier’s daughter, Sarah. She is an old woman, now, looking back on the ten-year-old girl she was at the time of the trials. The writing is lush and poignant, the situation horrific. (Kent is a descendant of Martha Carrier and grew up hearing stories about her.) At one point, before Martha is taken away to prison for merely being her authentic, bold self, she entrusts Sarah with a red-covered ledger book that is supposedly the written history of the Carrier family. (The father had come to the new world from Wales, under a veil of mystery.) This book could be the undoing of the family, Martha tells Sarah, and orders her to guard it well, never show it to her father because he doesn’t know it exists, and not read it until she’s “of age” to understand.

So the story rolls along, through the trials, the executions, and finally the breath of sanity that frees the remaining prisoners and stops the witch hunts. Sarah narrates, very quickly, the rest of her life, taking a brief pause to mention the red book. It confirms that her father had had a prominent role in Oliver Cromwell’s army.

Okay. Big deal. She’d basically heard as much through town gossip. And everyone seemed to be afraid of her father. So the harm to their family from actual knowledge of this secret would be…?

None!

ARGH! The payoff should have been bigger. Bolder. What secret could be worth all that real estate in the story? Not enough of a payoff, in my opinion. It’s like the quote attributed to Chekhov about the gun – that if you show it, you have to shoot it.

And you? Have you ever read any beautiful books that disappointed you in the end?

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Author: laurieboris

Writer, editor, proofreader, stand-up comedian in another life.

7 thoughts on “The End”

  1. That’s how I feel about books too! I get involved and develop alot of empathy for the characters. Helps runaway from life’s drama’s! LOL
    I’ve been disappointed sometimes and wished I’d never read the book when I don’t agree with the ending.
    I tend to read different kinds of books depending on my own moods. The kids laugh at me cause it usually takes me a day and a half at most to read an entire book. I don’t cheat on books either. If I finish one in the afternoon I can’t start a new one till tomorrow. OCD things I guess! LOL

  2. Hi Laurie!

    I felt that way with two of Dan Brown’s books: Angels and Demons and The Davinci Code. I really enjoyed the entire read – until the end. It was almost like he ran out of steam, or got bored, or something. So, ‘POOF – here’s a hokey ending’ is the result.

    The one we both read for the online book club Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult had me wanting to throw it across the room too. Not that I enjoyed it at any point along the way, but the ending actually offended me – so trite considering the time I’d invested with the book.

    Fortunately, I’ve read more books where I slow down and truly savour the final chapters – because walking away at the end proves to be really, really hard.

  3. Funny, I was going to mention The Da Vinci Code. Also, Stephen King’s It. I’m pretty sure he was well steeped in the good sauce by the time he got to the end of the story. After getting the reader so emotionally invested in his richly drawn characters, imagine my chagrin at learning the big, scary monster was a f’ing spider! ARGH!

  4. Here’s my nominee: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe. Great characters, great set-pieces, great story arc, and then… the ending just fizzles. It’s as if he said, “Oops, the deadline is THIS month, not next month! Better wrap this up.”

  5. Yes, that one burned me, too!! I can see those blinking messages from his publisher on the phone… Loved the characters. It’s been years since I read it and much of it has stuck with me. But…wait…was that an ending? Did he run out of paper? Did the file truncate?

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