Favorite Endings in Literature

A lot is made of great first lines in literature. 

Call me Ishmael.   Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. 

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. 

I am an invisible man.

Not a lot is said, however, of the often overlooked, but equally important closing paragraph.  Where the opening paragraph has to capture your interest and propel you down the page like Alice down the rabbit hole, the closing paragraph has to strike the right chord to both sum up some essential bit of the story and resonate with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Here are four of my favorite.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

                    “The Dead.”  James Joyce

“Nothing new.  They’ll go on being Mimi and Dorothy and Gilbert just as you and I will go on being us and the Quinns will go on being the Quinns.  Murder doesn’t round out anybody’s life except the murdered’s and sometimes the murderer’s.”

‘That may be,” Nora said, “but it’s all pretty unsatisfactory.’”

                  The Thin Man.  Dashiell Hammett.

The seventh reader interrupts you: “Do you believe that every story must have a beginning and an end?  In ancient times a story could end only in two ways: having passed all the tests, the hero and the heroine married, or else they died.  The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death.”

You stop for a moment to reflect on these words.  Then, in a flash, you decide you want to marry Ludmilla.

Now you are man and wife.  Reader and Reader.  A great double bed receives your parallel readings.

Ludmilla closes her book, turns off her light, puts her head back against the pillow, and says, “Turn off your light, too.  Aren’t you tired of reading?”

And you say, “Just a moment, I’ve almost finished If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.”

            If on a winter’s night a traveler.  Italo Calvino.

“There is no instrument left that I can play,” Gwilan thought, and the thought hung in her mind for a while like a long chord, till she knew the notes that made it.  “I thought my harp was myself.  But it was not.  It was destroyed, I was not.  I thought Torm’s wife was myself, but she was not.  He is dead, I am not.  I have nothing left at all now but myself.  The wind blows from the valley, and there’s a voice on the wind, a bit of a tune.  Then the wind falls, or changes.  The work has to be done, and we did the work.  It’s their turn for that, the children.  There’s nothing left for me to do but sing.  I never could sing.  But you play the instrument you have.”  So she stood by the cold hearth and sang the melody of Orioth’s Lament.  The people of the household wakened in their beds and heard her singing, all but Torm; but he knew that tune already.  The unturned strings of the harps hung on the wall wakened and answered softly, voice to voice, like eyes that shine among the leaves when the wind is blowing.”

            “Gwilan’s Harp.”  Ursula Le Guin.

Saris and Curries for American Readers, by Shobhan Bantwal

Saris and Curries for American Readers, by Classics author, and guest blogger, Shobhan Bantwal 

In the American fiction market brimming with Caucasian, African-American, even Latino characters, there are few that are Indian. Despite the rising popularity of ethnic fiction fromAsia, it is still a mere fraction of the thousands of fiction books churned out by American publishing houses each year. So when I decided to step into the difficult-to-penetrate realm of fiction, I knew it was going to be a serious challenge, especially since I took up writing at the late age of 50.

As a naïve neophyte I had no clue as to how I was going to capture the attention of agents and publishers with my mainstream stories when the publishing world expected every South Asian author to write somber literary fiction. My fiction was a rare jumble of genres—multicultural commercial women’s fiction with romantic and literary elements. I simply call it “Bollywood in a Book.”

Amazingly enough, despite many rejections, a highly reputable agent, the late Elaine Koster, who was once a publisher for Penguin and launched the careers of such famous writers as Stephen King and Khaled Hosseini, loved my writing and signed me on. Consequently my book rights were sold to Kensington Publishing.

But despite my editor and agent’s enthusiasm, I was plagued by doubts. Not many American readers know a lot about Indian culture. Was I capable of educating them about India without turning them off? Could I write convincing love scenes? Would Indian characters wearing saris and kurtas appeal to romance readers? I realized I would never find out unless I tried to introduce all of the above ideas to my potential audience.

I incorporate the concepts of arranged marriage, spicy cuisine, superstitions, virgin brides and grooms, India’s notorious caste system, and hot-button controversial subjects like dowry and female-fetus abortion to make my fiction not only more intriguing but vivid and educational at the same time. I believe readers have curious minds and truly want to learn. Nonetheless that learning needs to be combined with an absorbing story, the right dose of emotion, and engaging characters.

By doggedly pursuing my colorful hodgepodge of genres and cultures and topics I have gradually managed to capture the interest of a growing number of readers. They are an appreciative audience, eager to dive into a different kind of story and learn about other cultures.

And while I entertain my readers, it has been a marvelous educational experience for me. Promoting my books to a mainstream American readership is hard work, often frustrating, and very expensive. But there is immense satisfaction in stirring interest and reaching more readers with each new book.

My latest book is THE FULL MOON BRIDE, the story of a young Indian-American attorney who is so hung up on her plain looks that when a handsome man introduced to her by her parents, proposes marriage, she assumes he is after her money. Will she be able to accept the fact that she has a lot more to offer him than her wealth, and that true love can come through an arranged match?

Shobhan Bantwal has five books published to date by Kensington, with one more scheduled for release in 2012. Her articles and short stories have appeared in The Writer, Romantic Times, India Abroad, Little India, and New Woman magazines. Her short fiction has won honors/awards in contests by Writer’s Digest, New York Stories, and  New Woman. Her debut book, THE DOWRY BRIDE, won the 2008 Golden Leaf Award.