Cliffhanger or Disappointment? A Post about Endings

August 6th, 2008 • Kate

Betsy Bird over at Fuse #8 posted the other day about books with unsatisfying endings, mentioning a new book by an author I love (which I haven’t read yet, and don’t even want to talk about too much for fear of spoiling the ending for myself), but also citing one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOKS IN THE WORLD, The Princess Bride. And thus the gloves are thrown down. I love The Princess Bride and its ending, to me, is an all-time classic.1 It has a sense of continuing on that allows the reader to imagine what happens next, and to me, that’s one of the greatest gifts an author can give his or her audience — the chance to contribute to the story. I’m representing a novel that has that same kind of ending — without giving it away, it’s not so much a cliffhanger as fading to black the very moment before the grand conclusion, allowing the reader to envision what happens next and not spoiling it for their own imagination.
Or maybe I just can’t bear to hear anything bad about The Princess Bride2. What books have left you unsatisfied by the ending? Not counting titles within a series, please. Or which ones do you feel have an ending that still leaves things up in the air, but works for you? Let the commenting commence!

1 – I’m not talking, btw, about the lost chapter of the sequel to TPB which appears in the 20th Anniversary Edition of the TPB, and all subsequent printings, although the edition I’m linking to does include that. I’m talking about the original ending.
2 -And what ever happened with this? I’m a nerd gamer, I want to know!

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6 Responses to “Cliffhanger or Disappointment? A Post about Endings”

  1. Jolie Says:

    I'm like Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which I just read and loved at the insistence of my friends, even though I'm no longer a YA myself!). My favorite book is the last one I read. Actually, that's not quite true for me the way it is for Charlie, but I am inclined to like every book I read simply because I LOVE to read, so I'm grateful to every book for giving me the pleasure.
    It's been difficult to get past that mindset now that I'm trying to become a pubbed writer. I have to read more critically if I want my pleasure reading to be a learning experience as well (and I do want that).
    But The Princess Bride! I can't bring myself to find fault with it! Although I will say that the "first chapter" of Buttercup's Baby was really, really frustrating. Good, but frustrating, like half a bite of a fantastic new ice cream flavor that I'll never taste again.

  2. slf Says:

    This posting made me think of Richardson’s ginormous "The History of Sir Charles Grandison" (circa 1750). In the author’s notes at the end, Richardson sort of starts bickering with readers who have criticized him for ending the novel where he did. Apparently some readers wanted to see more details about the happily-ever-after (including whether the heroine breastfed her new baby!). I mean sheesh, the novel is already the size of one of those Smart Cars.
    Anyway, I guess this has been an issue for readers through the ages!

  3. Scott Says:

    I'm not a fan of books that wrap up too tightly, that tie up all loose ends about every character and tell me what happens after the story ends. I guess I like to feel like the book is a slice of time in a life that began before the story and continues after it, and those endings make me feel like it's all over when the story ends. If it's in an actual epilogue, I can almost give it a pass (because I can ignore it or separate it from the story), but when it's the actual final chapter, it ruins the whole book for me.
    For example, the ending of "A Man In Full" destroyed the book for me. I didn't exactly love that book, but I enjoyed it quite a bit until I reached the last chapter.
    You said not to mention books in a series, but how about the end of a series itself? Back in the far-ago, when I was in college, I read the Deryni Rising trilogy, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I looked forward to the big duel at the end with relish (that great dark green kind on a real Chicago dog). But the duel was prevented and never even happened, and not even by the actions of the protagonist.
    When I think of endings I don't like, those are the two that instantly come to mind.

  4. Carrie Says:

    You can access the Princess Bride game via eMachines games. I'm a nerd gamer, too. I know these things. 🙂
    http://emachines.wildgames.com/games/princess-bri

  5. f_fabledtraipse Says:

    The Handmaid's Tale! It has a very ambiguous ending, but that helps the reader understand that the book is not about Offred, it is about all society.

  6. Kathleen Says:

    Jolie said:
    the "first chapter" of Buttercup's Baby was really, really frustrating.
    Goldman is a cruel, cruel man 🙂
    The only ending I have *hated* an author for is The Box of Delights. A dream ending which still has me frothing at the mouth because the rest of the book was so good. Don't undo the whole thing!
    I like books which finish in such a way that you know the characters have lives after it (Dianna Wynne Jones is good at that), but the story itself is finished. On the other hand, Lloyd Alexander finishes the Chronicles of Prydain with a happy ending that is so final (for the reader) that I always finish the book in tears.