“Parting can be such sweet sorrow or such putrid disappointment,” critic Ron Charles wrote in a recent essay about the many reasons some book endings leave us cold.
Hundreds of readers flocked to the comments section to air their personal grievances about the endings that still haunt them, and the result was a funny, eclectic and often contradictory look at how we want our books to conclude.
“One of the most enjoyable and interesting comment sections ever,” wrote commenter jimlady. We couldn’t agree more, so we decided to highlights some of the takeaways.
There was nearly universal agreement on a handful of books.
“I’ve thought for a long time that I was the only one who hated Gone Girl,” Ms Sharon wrote. Not by a long shot. Gillian Flynn’s thriller was a top contender for worst ending, according to our readers. Julia Moore neatly summed up the general sentiment: “The ending of ‘Gone Girl’ made me angry for months after I read it!”
“Cold Mountain,” by Charles Frazier, was also a popular choice. But commenter GooseDad was the only one industrious enough to rectify the alleged problem: “When I came to the end of that book, I was so angry, that I rewrote the author’s ending. It only took one sentence. If you are upset with how that book ended, you can borrow my copy of the book .?.?. Cold Mountain, for me, went from being a book that I would have despised for the rest of my life, to become one of my favorites books simply by changing that one sentence.”
Other titles that showed up repeatedly: “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” by John Fowles (“it just petered out”); “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” by David Wroblewski; Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” (“I threw it across the room”); “Bel Canto,” by Ann Patchett; Charlotte Bront?’s “Villette” (“I’m still mad, 30 years later”), and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (“a tragedy for American literature”). Although Ron called the surprising ending of “Atonement” brilliant, many disagreed. “I’ve never been more mad at an ending to a book, and will never read another word Ian McEwan writes as a result,” wrote Brenda M. “Why would I ever trust a writer who has so much contempt for his readers?”
We have to agree to disagree about some books.
Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and the mostly melancholy bibliography of Thomas Hardy divided our commenters. Javachip tried to sum up the pro argument: “There’s a difference between endings that crush you with their sadness or horribleness but still work, and indeed you hate them because they work (most of the great tragedies, [‘Romeo & Juliet’] included; Anna Karenina; Madame Bovary; Lord of the Flies; Hardy; Hemingway’s better novels; all the sad ‘beloved pet and/or best friend has to die’ stories; and does anyone remember Flowers for Algernon?) vs. endings that feel like a cheat (Bel Canto; any ‘it was only a dream’ ending; I don’t think Atonement falls into this category exactly, but I can see why other people do).”
But not everyone was convinced. In a complaint about “Jude the Obscure,” rzzzzz wrote, “Hardy’s need to make social commentary .?.?. plunges things down an unbearably (and unimaginable) tragic rabbit hole that I found manipulative and repellant. and i love Hardy, and i think most readers would be well sympathetic to his concern about society’s inequities without having an emotional anvil suddenly dropped on them.”
Some people read the end of the book first!?
Well, this was a shock for me. But many commenters were ready with solid arguments in favor of the unorthodox practice.
“I always read the end first,” wrote Alison Cartwright. “Part of the joy of a good story is wondering how the author is going to get to the end that they do. I always enjoy a journey more if I [don’t] have to worry where I am going.”
According to commenter attuned, it’s also efficient: “I’ve always been criticized by relatives for reading the first chapter of a book and then flipping to the end and reading it next. I do this even with Agatha Christies. Saves a lot of time because if I liked beginning and end, I’ll go back and read the middle, otherwise that is all the time I will spend on that book.”
Some unexpected titles popped up, along with entertaining explanations.
“I was telling my son the other day about The Black Stallion Legend, which I read as a horse-crazy kid,” wrote LC in Stamford of the Walter Farley book. “True to the original ‘The Black Stallion,’ all books in the series end with some sort of gripping horse race. The Black Stallion Legend ends with .?.?. a nuclear bomb. Weird is not the word for that ending.”
“I think ‘The Giving Tree’ should have ended with another tree toppling over and crushing the selfish greedy protagonist,” wrote Nlr1950 of the children’s book by Shel Silverstein.
Fulfilling the silliness quota that every comments section should have, Hair of the Dog wrote, “The Oxford English Dictionary. The ending, ‘Zyzzyva’, is a paean to a genus of tropical weevil. After 21,728 pages, the surprise ending is a bloody insect!” Replied 551972: “It was the obvious ending after that aasvogel set up.”
A twist ending! Readers also added their favorites.
What a kindhearted bunch. Commenter beejvt kicked off the lovefest: “Let’s be positive! How about a list of books with the best ending? My choice is ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ by Kate Atkinson.” Readers recommended such varied tomes as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”; “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel García Márquez, and Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” Added Lopezgirl5, “I’ve always been fond of ‘Reader, I married him,’?” from Charlotte Bront?’s “Jane Eyre.” “Had me giggling in remembrance for days.”