Mad! Or, on Unresolved Endings

When I was little, my babysitter was Mrs. Clancy, who wore polyester pantsuits (with the top part sleeveless, over a turtleneck) and a rhinestone letter A necklace (she was Alice Clancy). SHe smoked Kools, menthol. She was old and a little bit crotchety but in the most loving way imaginable, and she used to watch her stories in the afternoons and play solitaire at the table, and she was altogether the best babysitter in the world. I think of her often, but I think of her now, because she once told me that when she read Gone with the Wind, when she got to the last line, "I threw that book against the wall. Ooh, I was so mad! 'I'll think about it tomorrow?' What the hell is that? I wanted to know what happened!"

See, Chestnut read My Real Children.


I'd brought it home from the library, and she snatched it off the coffee table and proceeded to devour it. She read it upstairs and downstairs and she carried it and read it walking down the street—you know the drill. And then the next day she came downstairs, furious. "It ends, but she doesn't tell you how it ends! I'M SO MAD!" She was the unwitting victim of…lack of closure.

There's a lot of lack of closure out there. You've got Eleanor and Park, which ends … tantalizingly. There's Inception. (I know, a movie, but still.) What's your feeling on this? Personally, I like closure, it's so satisfying! We never get closure in life, at least I don't mostly, and it's weirdly reassuring to know what happens to those fictional people you fell in love with. But I know, too, that there is a case to be made for loose ends. And lifelikeness (I know, not a word). 

What do you think? Do you get pissed off, like Chestnut? Are you more easy-going, like no one I know? What does it mean for a story to end anyway?

4 thoughts on “Mad! Or, on Unresolved Endings

  1. I always hope that it’ll somehow work out the next time I read (or watch it). What comes to mind is “The Remains of the Day” — why, why, can’t they just get together? — and “The End of the Affair” — why, why can’t she just take back that silly vow to God?


  2. I definitely resent unresolved endings. I remember Tana French’s “Into the Woods” was that way for me. It’s fairly gripping thriller and very realistic. But in the end the only “plausible” resolution to the main mystery is… fairies in the forest. What’s with the sharp left turn into the surreal? Ms. French doesn’t actually resolve it and it drove me batty enough to write her and let her know what I thought about the ‘ending.’


  3. Well, the problem with any fantasy reader…which she shows signs of growing into the adult form of…is that you basically resign yourself to the unfinished ending AKA the multi-series book that may or may not ever be finished by the author in question (hello Robert Jordan, GRR Martin, Patrick Rothfuss) etc etc etc. Hopefully the latter two examples will actually live to finish their halfway finished stories.
    I’ve stopped getting upset about it. Also, with the unfortunate advent of the “everything MUST BE A TRILOGY” era, it is really hard to find books that actually tell the story in one go anyway. I find that if you just have something really good waiting in the wings i.e. ready to pick up and start at the EXACT SECOND you finish the book with the unresolved ending, you can pretty well rebound right into a new relationship very quickly. While that may not be healthy advice when it comes to personal relationships, I think it is great advice (nay, the only good advice) for book relationships.


  4. I figured out why it got blocked—the J-o-r-d-a-n—which is on the block list.
    But more important—yes! This is a great and difficult thing about series. But truly, the problem with this one wasn’t a break in the story, but rather an intentional question posed to the reader: which of these is true? Which happened? It offered two narratives and then refused to choose between them explicitly, if that makes sense.
    You’ve actually made me think even more about it, and I am thinking about writing more on this to make sense of it, if I can.


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