the weight of endings

shannon-chatI think we’ve all encountered books that were slow or just okay until BAM—amazing ending. How much does that change your overall opinion of a book? On the flip side, what about books that are great and let you down in the final pages?

catherine-chat2A bad ending will usually leave me with a sense of disappointment but not deep regret. I recently read A Reunion of Ghosts and was loving the book until the last 100 pages when a new character was introduced and they closed out the book. While I wanted the resolution, I wish the author had chosen to let the original narrators close out their story.
april-chatWhile a bad ending will not generally ruin an otherwise remarkable book for me, it may cause me to knock it down a rating or two depending on how bad that ending is.
monika-chatIf a book is going along wonderfully and I’m having a fantastic reading experience from page one, and then the ending completely fizzles out? That is such a letdown! So disappointing. Depending on how much I invested in the book along the way, I might feel okay about it. But overall, I think it’s much harder to forgive when the ending is a bust.
shannon-chatI’m so with you on that. I have a hard time bouncing back from a bad ending, especially if I’ve invested a good chunk of time.

That said, with the punchy endings, I sometimes I wonder if the payoff is worth it. Usually, an ending has to change my whole perception of a novel in order to make me feel like I can call it great despite a slow start. It needs to be an end that makes me want to go back and reread or rethink everything up until that point.
jennifer-chatI’m trying to think of a so-so book with an amazing ending. I can’t think of one because I rarely allow myself to keep reading something that isn’t enticing me all the way to the end. I recently tried to read The Country of Ice Cream Star. I’d heard again and again that the ending was 5-star good. I tried and tried to slog it out but ended up putting it aside, but couldn’t keep on trucking with a book that wasn’t working for me for an eventual payoff.
april-chatI think that a great example of where the payoff is worth it is Fight Club. Since it’s been so many years since I’ve read the book I’m going to blasphemously refer to the movie. The whole ending just frickin’ blew me away and made an otherwise unremarkable movie into something amazing. Since I read the book after the movie, the movie is what has stuck with me, but I think that the sentiment remains the same.
monika-chatI love when that kind of thing happens, and it definitely changes my impression of the entire book for the better. It makes the patience the book requires so worth it—that is, if the book was fairly good already.
shannon-chatI think a slow start can definitely make me more careful about how I recommend a book. It gets a little tricky. I want to warn people that they need to hang on, but I don’t want to spoil anything by suggesting a twist or major surprise at the end.
april-chatYes, that’s definitely a difficulty and goes back to your whole post on accidental spoilers. At the same time if I was truly blown away I do want to recommend it and maybe tell that individual—just wait, trust me.
catherine-chat2Agreed. I want to let the person know that it will be worth it but not over-hype it. What if it isn’t as twisty or great to them as it was to me? A perfect example of that is Cloud Atlas. I don’t know how many people I’ve had to tell, “Just get through the first 100 pages and I promise you it will be worth it.” At the same time, the writing has to be amazing for a slow start book—if it’s so-so I won’t stick with it long enough to get to the ending.
shannon-chatThat’s a great example. And I think you’re right about writing. There has to be at least something to hook me, whether I’ve been told there’s a payoff in the end or the writing is blowing me away, I usually need a reason to power through.
jennifer-chatI can enjoy an explosive, over-the-top sort of ending. But I also don’t mind a nice soft landing, an ambiguous ending. That’s life…ambiguous. The loose ends aren’t always tied up neatly. Some books are served better by that kind of end.


What do you think, readers? How much weight does the end of a book carry? Is it different if the ending is good or bad?