Kay: The End Is Nigh

Copyright: Hasan Shaheed 2005

We’re already more than a month into the new year, although I haven’t stopped feeling celebratory about the ending to the last one. I’ve spent my time at home, as always, chugging along on my various projects, which include revising several manuscripts that I hope to publish this year.

Revising a manuscript that I’ve left to marinate for a while always raises questions for me, some of them structural and fundamental and some more stylistic. One of the elements I most fret over is the ending, which of course I want to be happy and upbeat, but how can I best deliver that? How to avoid cliché? How to tie things up in a way that satisfies readers but leaves them wanting more?

Endings are hard to write (well, books are hard to write), and no matter what you do, you can’t please all the people all the time (see Amazon reviews for just about anything). And it turns out that even award-winning, best-selling authors write books with endings that a lot of people hate. There’s even a list for it, according to Ron Charles, book critic at the Washington Post. (I’m nodding here to Elizabeth, who described yesterday a bunch of lists she’d surveyed, looking for books she might want to read.)

Charles included a link (to the retailer OnBuy.com) so the curious could read the list for themselves, but I couldn’t find the post on OnBuy’s blog or anywhere else on the site, for that matter. However, Charles said that the company had culled reviews on Goodreads to identify the Books With the Most Disappointing Endings. He wrote:

The methodology — searching comments for “ending” and variations of the word “disappointing” — feels a bit dubious, but the list is an irresistible walk down memory lane.

What’s on the list?

  1. Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
  2. Atonement” by Ian McEwan
  3. Requiem” by Lauren Oliver
  4. The Sweet Far Thing” by Libba Bray
  5. Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
  6. Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson
  7. Dear John” by Nicholas Sparks
  8. Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls
  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling
  10. The Giver” by Lois Lowry
  11. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling
  12. Breaking Dawn” by Stephenie Meyer

Charles points out that readers seem to hate the books they love the most, because who bothers to hate the ending of a book they didn’t like? They were probably just happy to get to the end of it, which is how I always feel when I read to the end of something I find meh, hoping for the best, but then, ultimately and forever, disappointed by the last page.

What about you? Did you hate the endings of any of these books? Hate a few others? What tips you over into no-no land?

8 thoughts on “Kay: The End Is Nigh

  1. Oh yes, I absolutely hated Breaking Dawn. It squicked me out and ruined Twilight for me. I promptly chucked all the books into the recycling bin. Surprised to find it on this list, though. Given the popularity of the books I thought I was the only one!

    It’s been a while, but I was livid with the ending of Dorothy Dunnett’s Gemini. I love her Lymond Chronicles, and assumed I’d feel the same about her eight novel series House of Niccolo. It’s complex and interesting, set in an earlier time period than Lymond, with a morally ambiguous but fascinating hero. I never went back to check whether it was my stupidity, but I honestly didn’t twig until close to the end of the eighth book that the big reveal of the whole series was… surprise!… it’s a prequel! Eight long, complicated, vivid, twisty novels to learn that the characters in this series were the ancestors of the hero in the other series. WTF? And I had waited with bated breath for the publication of that book. It’s the only time in my life that I have actually thrown a book against the wall.

    More recently I read a werewolf romance by an author I’d heard presenting at RWA Nationals. I liked her and I liked her workshop. Her book was clever and well-written. The heroine, who had been turned into a werewolf against her will by a stalker-ish alpha wolf who wanted to mate with her, was desperately trying to break free of stalker-wolf’s controlling family. She’d left, made a new life for herself in the city and found a decent guy who loved her. Yet she let herself be dragged back into family politics, let herself be dragged into the woods and debauched by stalker-wolf (she always tried to resist, he always ignored her refusals, and she always ended up loving it). And in the end she dumped the nice boyfriend, returned to the controlling family, and pronounced herself deeply, forever in love with her abuser. This was presented as an HEA. I suppose it was a form of bully romance, which I believe is very popular with a certain readership. The author is smart and successful, so I don’t think it was an accident. But I was horrified. If that’s what young women are reading these days, it makes me feel very sad.

    Oh–and last but not least, I can’t believe Charlaine Harris didn’t make that list!

    • Charlaine Harris! I just checked to see how the reviews had progressed on the last book of the Sookie Stackhouse series. They’ve bumped up on Amazon to 3.8/5 with more than 6K reviews, two to three times as many reviews as the other books in the series. (I think that book started in the 1.2/5 range.) Readers were so angry about how that series ended, which I didn’t really get. From book one Harris had telegraphed who the only candidate could be for Sookie’s affections (well, she’d telegraphed who it could *not* be, and that was everyone but one). The last book was anticlimactic and a bit boring because she tied up every character who’d made an appearance in thirteen books. But it sure was a lesson on how the fans can turn on you!

      Breaking Dawn: Two out of three commenters to this post hated the ending!

      And I’m so sorry about Gemini. It is killer to get so far and be so disappointed.

  2. I’m with Jilly on Breaking Dawn but for a different reason. The whole series is a lead-up to the big confrontation with the Volturi. We are warned through 4 thick books that this face-off is the vampire equivalent of the apocalypse but when it finally happens the opposition sees Bella’s power and slinks away. (This is the book, not the movie.)

    It was the most pitifully anti-climactic ending I’ve ever read.

    • I never read the Twilight series, so don’t have an opinion on this one, but yeah—like Jilly with the House of Niccolo (and I suppose the readers of the Sookie Stackhouse series), when you’ve read long and far and then the ending blows up the whole thing—well, people get aggravated. I hate to say it, but this is one reason why I’ve taken to reading the ending of some of the books I pick up. Don’t want to put in the effort if there’s no payoff.

  3. I generally forget books I’ve read that disappointed me, but one that will always stand out is Madame Bovary. I had to read that for a writing class, hated it, and tossed it in the chipper-shredder. Not only was the ending disappointing, but I found the characters pretty unlikeable.

    Other than that, the last “disappointing ending” book, whose title I’ve completely forgotten, was a disappointment because it didn’t end with a HEA, it ended with more of a “stay tuned for the next book to find out what happens.” I hate that. I don’t mind big arc that cover multiple books, but I want the key story for each book to be resolved.

  4. Madame Bovary: I’m with you on that one. Such unpleasant people, such an unpleasant outcome, why would anyone ask a reader to stick with it through however many pages?

    Cliffhangers, don’t get me started. 🙂

  5. Yeah, ugh to cliffhangers. It’s OK if the author is dead (and completed the last book), and you can whip through the whole thing in a week like it was one super-long novel, but otherwise? Let’s just say there needs to be a lot of emotional satisfaction in other ways for me to not hate a cliffhanger.

    Alice Hoffman in her early career wrote at least three books where the prose was gorgeous, the plot was engaging, and I was so, so happy to be reading her books . . . until just near the end when some guy swept in and solved all the problems. I had to stop reading her. I believe she got better later; I remember reading something of hers ten years later, and the ending was pretty good. I often think I should give her a try again. Because when she was good, she was good . . . .

    Another problem with endings is when the author gets to a good stopping place in a series, but the series has been so successful and such a cash cow that the author wants to continue the series (for reasons besides loving their characters and their world). Then it can get a bit ridiculous. But who am I to say they are wrong? Other readers may tolerate the same story over and over again for longer than I can. (And to be honest, I can probably tolerate the same story longer than some people can, too.)

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