While we often remember the beginnings of stories, memorable first words that remain with us through time -- "Call me Ishmael", "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." -- the endings of novels and stories can sometimes escape us. There are the classic, oft-quoted conclusions, like Gatsby's green light or Sydney Carton's "far, far better thing I do," but I've found that most endings usually disappoint. This may be one of the great challenges facing a writer: the satisfying ending. How does one successfully conclude a story, one into which the reader has invested time and emotion, in such a way that is simultaneously satisfying, moving, and thought-provoking?
Such a task may be nearly impossible to achieve, but there are a few writers who have come close. I've found a few selections which have stayed with me long after I completed the book, and which often have nudged me into rereading the entire story. These are not plot-driven conclusions -- no "reveal" of the actual murderer, or "surprising twist" which negates the previous five-hundred pages of story. These are simply well-written, emotionally and intellectually fulfilling resolutions in which I believe the authors achieved their goal.
I don't feel there are any real "spoilers" here; just expressions of literary talent which may encourage more readers to return to these works, or experience them for the first time:
The next morning he stayed in bed longer than usual -- consoling himself with the idea that at this stage in life one could enjoy the young without possessing them -- and when he went downstairs, the storm had passed, flocks of geese were flying south in formation across the sky, the ocean was utterly smooth save for a single line of breakers, and a great, domestic peacefulness lay over everything. He looked out the window at the light. It was the most beautiful day of the season.
-- Andrew Holleran, "Petunias", In September, the Light Changes
"Take evening, " the Alien said. "There is time. There are returns. To go is to return."
"Thank you very much," Orr said, and shook hands with his boss. The big green flipper was cool on his human hand. He went out with Heather into the warm, rainy afternoon of summer. The Alien watched them from within the glass-fronted shop, as a sea creature might watch from an aquarium, seeing them pass and disappear into the mist.
-- Ursula K. LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven
Down the Peninsula at Cypress Lawn Cemetery, a woman in a paisley turban climbed out of a battered automobile and trudged up the hillside to a new grave.
She stood there for a moment, humming to herself, then removed a joint from a tortoise-shell cigarette case and laid it gently on the grave.
"Have fun," she smiled. "It's Columbian."
-- Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City
Then, though his sight was now very dim, he looked again at the young men. "They will commit me to the earth," he thought. "Yet I also commit them to the earth. There is nothing else by which men live. Men go and come, but earth abides."
-- George R. Stewart, Earth Abides
There is much talk of a design in the arras. Some are certain they see it. Some see what they have been told to see. Some remember that they saw it once but have lost it. Some are strengthened by seeing a pattern wherein the oppressed and exploited of the earth are gradually emerging from their bondage. Some find strength in the conviction that there is nothing to see. Some
-- Thornton Wilder, The Eighth Day