Monday, May 10, 2010

Is it over?

By Steve Weddle

Some years ago, when Russel D. McLean and I went to a Mel Gibson film festival, we nearly walked out of that movie called RANSOM. Not because the movie was full of dirty words and Russel's sensibilities were offended. No.

You see, we'd thought the movie was over. False ending. As any movie fan knows, when you put Ronnie Howard together with Mel Gibson and Marky Mark, you're going to have some cleverness. The movie ended, but then it turned a bit. Then there was more.

Some books end abruptly. Some books end a few times. Some books never seem to end at all.

I just finished my first Moe Prager book, which made me think of these sorts of endings. (Of course, the Reed Farrel Coleman book no more made me think of Mel Gibson than a dinner a fine dinner of prime rib makes me think of a bag of neutered weasels, but there you are.) The book comes to a close. Mystery solved. Bad guy confesses. Investigator gets his check. Dinner. Cigars. Drive home safely.

The book may have been satisfying, but the investigator himself isn't. Something doesn't feel right. A piece missing. Not quite fitting. Like that little fleck of a hangnail on your middle toe at three in the morning. So he goes back after things and the story develops a little more, then a little more. Things kinda went where you expected them to, then everything went topsy-turvy. Unlike some Hollywood trick, though, this works. Things move along, not just fragments thrown on at the end, but the story developed more, stretched out to completeness, like taffy at Coney Island.

Other books don't end at all where you expect them. Talk about a book not having the Hollywood ending, have you read this ICE HARVEST? Everyone (well, not the guy what cuts my hair. jerkhole) told me to read it and coupled that advice with this question: "Don't think it's like the movie." I hadn't seen the movie, but my copy of the book comes with Billy Joe Thornbob and Lloyd Dobler carrying a pirate's trunk. So I didn't know what to expect. Which is a good damn thing, because that ending came out of nowhere. (The dude's a chick named "Rosebud." Do NOT tell your friends.)

Contrast those endings with great crime fiction novels -- GUN MONKEYS (haha. thought I'd get through a post without mentioning GUN MONKEYS? haha. Nope. Now drink.) and COTTONWOOD. Both of these books have epilogues. (I don't remember whether they were actually called such or just final chapters, but I've loaned my copies out and can't check.) The wrap-up. Ten years later. A year later. Oh, same thing with THE DEPUTY. A year later.

So the ending: Hero rights the wrong, God's in his Heaven, etc. Good books -- hell, great books -- have ended like this. Other great ones don't. After you've worked through 70- or 80-thousand words, how much weight do you give to the final 10 pages? Have you read great books that ended in an unsatisfying way? Multiple endings?

Do you prefer an ending that wraps everything up neatly or one that leaves you wondering?


David Cranmer said...

I like stories that start at full throttle and leave me wanting more. I don't need tidy wrap-ups.

Btw I just began reading NEEDLE. Well done.

Travener said...

I don't mind a little ambiguity -- but don't leave me hanging like the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, going all WTF? Since I "walked out of" Avatar (turned off the DVD after being bored for 40 minutes) maybe someone can tell me if it had two endings -- James Cameron movies usually do.

Steve Weddle said...

David -- Understood. Kinda nice to think that things are still going on in the world of the book after you leave it.

Travener -- Yeah, there's gotta be a difference between leaving the ending open and leaving it empty.

John McFetridge said...

Odd coincidece, The Ice Harvest was on TV last night. It's a good movie on its own, but yeah, read the book, it's great.

As far as endings go, good characters will stay with you. This particular event in their lives may be "over," but it wasn't the only thing going on in their lives.

And you never know when something you thought was "over" comes back into play.

One thing I like about ost current crime writing is that events from the past often still resonate. Usually the characters go through some major shit and I'm glad that they don't just forget aout it the minute it's over.

You'll see, that goes for Moe, too. I just read Soul Patch ;)

Steve Weddle said...

John -- "Not the only thing going on in their lives" -- Dang right. Maybe that one thing that got passed over on page 73 comes back. Maybe something a part you skipped when the narrator drove from Houston to Texas. Coulda been anything that set stuff in motion -- much like Joelle's post yesterday.

SOUL PATCH, huh? OK. Adding to the Summer Reading List of Books to Be Read this Summer List

Dana King said...

I like some kind of satisfying resolution--not necessarily a happy ending--but, as John noted, to me the mark of a good book is I should still have the feeling these people's lives are continuing. There may not be a sequel or a series, but I shouldn't get the feeling everything about these people has been summed up. That's what made the ending of THE WIRE so great. Season Five is my least favorite, but when it was over I was left with the impression everyone's lives still went on, we just weren't going to be allowed to see them anymore.

ICE HARVEST is a good movie, a great book. The stories are roughly similar, though the endings aren't. I understand Scott Phillips was happy with how the movie turned out; that's good enough for me.

COTTONWOOD and GUN MONKEYS are two of my favorites. And SOUL PATCH is well worth your time, as well.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I love ambiguity-as long as it doesn't strain credibility too much.
And yet I don't think I have the writing chops to pull it off--so I'll leave it for others to write--me to read.

Mike Dennis said...

My endings are often messy and inconclusive because, well, because that's how life usually is and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. The human condition doesn't always lend itself to neat endings with ribbons tied around them.

Steve Weddle said...

Dana -- One of these days I'm gonna hafta watch that WIRE all you cool people talk about. Not before I read SOUL PATCH, of course.

Patti -- Fine line, ain't it?

Mike -- Agreed. Too tidy seems forced to me and makes me doubt the "realness" of the whole story.

Jay Stringer said...

Reed Farrel Coleman and Scott Phillips are two of the best writers working in any genre. They get endings perfect each time, each one is different.

The best ending is the one that hits you in the gut, i think. Can be in a good way or a sad way, a loving way or a violent way, but it has to hit you.

One of the best epilogues to a book i can remember is Coleman's EMPTY EVER AFTER. Can't wait for the next one.

And Weddlemeister, read THE WALKAWAY. Amazing.