A friend was complaining to me this weekend about a book she’d just finished. It was a thriller, where a female CIA operative was chasing members of a drug cartel. There are apparently a number of points in the story where it seems like she’s going to catch up with them, but each time something goes sideways.
All of this sounds like what you’d expect from a thriller, but my friend who generally enjoys such stories was very angry about this particular one. Why? The ending. According to her, there wasn’t one. After being thwarted yet again, the CIA operative finally gets a tip from a source regarding where these bad guys are holed up.
And that’s it.
The story ends with the protagonist going off to follow this latest lead.
My friend was not pleased. Particularly since the night before she’d watched a recently released movie that had a similar lack of closure. It was a big weekend of ending-lackings.
I’ve heard arguments that books and movies and what not that have these sorts of non-endings are more realistic. Situations in life rarely have the nice wrap-up that most stories give them. This may be true, but I, personally, am not someone who reads books to confirm what I already know to be true about real life. If they do, that’s great. But I’m generally looking for a little more poetic justice.
This isn’t to say that all the loose ends of the story have to be tied up neatly at its close. That depends entirely on the world of the book. When I read a romance novel, I’m going to be annoyed if the hero and heroine don’t find a way to make it work before I reach the last page. But this doesn’t mean that all the other life issues that have presented themselves need to have total closure. If the guy and gal are together at the end, I’m fine working on the assumption that they’ll face all these other problems together.
If I’m reading a mystery starring some hardboiled detective, whose life is in total disarray because of choosing this line of work, I don’t need for her life to be all unicorns and rainbows at the end of the book. But I will not be pleased if I don’t get to see her solve the mystery that was set before her.
And if the hero has to die at the end of a thriller for the sake of the greater good, so be it. Will I cry? Yeah, probably. But, I still tear up at the end of Newsies, so that may not mean much. (Of course, if you don’t get emotional when all those young urban workers come to support that group of idealistic newsboys, I dub you heartless.) But, back to the point, I’m not going to be thrilled if the protagonist gets killed off at the end of the book, but if they first accomplish an important goal, I can tolerate it.
As a fan of Lost, I knew going into the finale that there was simply no way that all the questions I’d pondered over the course of the series would be answered. All I was looking for was a sense that I had seen the story through and had an understanding of where these characters I’d been so invested in ended up. And, that’s what I got. Do I still have a bunch of questions? Absolutely. If I think about it too much, my brain starts to feel a little woozy.
Endings don’t have to be neat or perfect, but I do want there to be an actual close to the story. I don’t want to feel as though I entered this world, started walking around getting to know people, and then got pulled out by the scruff of my neck before I could say goodbye.