The End v. Closure

the end

I have never been fond of tidy endings. Probably because like a clean house or a full roll of toilet paper, tidiness never lasts. And endings are more like death. Final. Closure, however, means we have moved on to another chapter of our lives, learning from the experiences of our past. So when I read books that place too much attention on wrapping up an ending with explanations and resolution, I suddenly get yanked out of the story and become aware of the author’s pen.

Now my 13-year-old and I differ over this. She likes finality, which reminds me of Hazel Grace in The Fault of Our Stars seeking out the author of her favorite book because she needs to know what happens to the main characters after the story ends.

Recently she read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the ending had her asking a million questions.

“What happens after Francie goes off to college? Does Katie finally have a happy life with Sergeant McShane?”

“What do you think happens?” I asked.

“I don’t know!”

“It isn’t important, is it? Francie lives her life with the experiences of her youth, knowing the tree in her yard keeps growing. Her childhood is the story. And don’t you worry about Katie. She’s a tough old broad that dealt with a worthless drunk. She’ll handle herself fine with McShane.” I said. “Wasn’t it in The Fault of Our Stars where Hazel even admits her favorite book ends in the middle, just like in real life?”

She still wasn’t satisfied. Then again, I feel like I’m the only one who didn’t obsess over the endings of The Sopranos and Seinfeld. It’s not easy saying goodbye, especially when we get dumped at a bell-ringing diner or end up in a jail cell, but sometimes we have to let go, knowing there is no good way to be dumped.

It’s a typical childish desire to see The End on the last page. We begin our reading life with those words scrolled at the finish of every fairy tale. We close the book with a sense of relief, knowing no more evil will descend upon the princess. We are assured she will live happily ever after so we can all get our sleep and be well rested.

My recent favorite ending was The Light Between Two Oceans. It ends with a sense of closure, but there is no definite resolution. In fact, the characters must live the remainder of their lives with little to no sense of resolution, which is part of the punishment. And yet, somehow, the story remains fulfilling and pure. I don’t want to give anymore away for those who have this on their TBR list, but in my opinion it is an exceptionally executed story from beginning to end.

However, I just finished two books, both highly acclaimed, in which there was too much summary, too much prophesying, with preposterous attempts to fix all the broken limbs of the beautifully fractured story. I hate those endings. They’re like empty calories. Great. I got to eat the ice cream, but now I’m feeling like someone just tried to buy me off while they ran out the back door with my purse. On the plus side, however, I’ll never lose sleep over them. And no one likes me when I’m grumpy. Just ask Snow White.

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15 thoughts on “The End v. Closure

  1. FictionFan

    Interesting! I don’t know which I prefer really – I think it varies depending on the story. I don’t like characters to be left dangling, but I don’t necessarily want it all wrapped up as happy ever after either. Though unless they all die at the end you can never be sure anyway. Lizzie and Darcy may have fought all the time and ended up divorced – or they might have had sixteen children and lost all their fortune… or maybe Lizzie discovered Darcy already had a lunatic wife locked in the attic…

    I was frothing at the mouth recently over the situation Steinbeck left his characters in at the end of Grapes of Wrath. I agree a tidy ending at the end of that one would have felt completely false though. As I said, interesting…

    1. desertdweller29

      Grapes of Wrath is a book I was just happy it ended. Quite torturous to get through, if I remember correctly. I haven’t been inclined to read that again since college. You’re a champ! Looking forward to your review, especially your thoughts on the ending.

  2. walt walker

    If I’m reading this correctly, I think I agree with you. There should be an end with a sense of closure, but there doesn’t necessarily have to be a definite resolution. I think the ending of The Graduate (the film, not the book) is a great example of this. Definitely closure, but definitely open to interpretation. But I would disagree with the idea of just stopping the story. Bringing down the guillotine. so to speak. Me no likey.

    1. desertdweller29

      Agreed! Just stopping the story isn’t good. There should resolution, a definite sense of closure, but it shouldn’t bend the story every which way to establish an ending and fix every lose tie. Me no likey that!

  3. ramonawray

    I don’t know, I guess there’s a part of me that wants to believe that everything broken can be repaired and that everyone lives happily ever after. Rainbows and puppies all around 🙂 One of my favorite books read this year is I’ll Give You The Sun, which has a neatly wrapped up ending, conceivably contrived in parts. But I didn’t mind it. I want to believe in fate and magic wants and inconceivable Universe plots that somehow knock all bits right where they belong. And sometimes when I finish a book, I want the author to validate my belief with hard facts. Conversely, sometimes that sense of resolution you mention is quite enough… Strange.

    1. desertdweller29

      You caught me! I’ll Give You the Sun was one of the books I was referring to with a too neat of an ending. I loved that book, until I got yanked out of the story with the author trying to establish a tidy ending. That said, it was a beautiful story and a great read. It certainly wasn’t a deal breaker. 🙂

  4. Debbie

    Gee, I’m not sure the sudden! Generally, I like a book that wraps up, and if it’s a mystery, all the ends should be tied. I can see the subtle difference in “closure,” though, and perhaps there’s a valid argument for that, too. So much to think of when one is writing, huh??!

    1. desertdweller29

      I probably should have clarified this doesn’t apply to suspense/triller books! Definitely need to know if reading a whodunnit. I suppose I should have said “contrived” endings. Lately I hit a few that had me thinking about this…

  5. Oscar Relentos

    Important distinction between closure and an ending, I feel the same way it’s the journey that counts, and closure helps you move on from that chapter to future moments. I actually liked the way Breaking Bad ended, but that’s a rare feeling at the end of an entire series, it’s never a right time to say goodbye and when it feels too perfect it doesn’t feel real. Great post!

    1. desertdweller29

      Yes! Breaking Bad’s ending was brilliant. Can’t believe I forgot to hold it up as the pinnacle of supreme endings in a tv series. So rare… Thanks for the reminder!

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