For the past year I’ve been keeping a sort of journal. It’s not a journal about myself. Perish the thought someone would actually choose that to read out all the things I’ve written. Really. Perish.
This journal is about endings. How to wrap up a story in the best possible way, with the best possible choice of words, and the best finale to the great work one has just finished. In this journal I write down the title and author, and just a bit of the opening lines to jog my memory as to which book this is, because it’s been so long since I read it. Then I dart to the end, to the author’s nugget summation, the wrap-up, and I write down the closing paragraph, or maybe just a few sentences. Some authors take pages for their closing. Some, just a few words.
The March/April issue of Writer’s Digest has a great article all the way back on p.40, by Jacquelyn Mitchard. It’s entitled, “Goodbye to All That,” and it’s all about endings. Charles Dickens could take pages to finalize his novels. Charlotte Bronte took but four words at the end of Jane Eyre: “Reader, I married him.” Most everything else ever written lies somewhere betwixt the two.
One of Ms. Mitchard’s comments was about the late David Foster Wallace. DFW admitted that his masterwork, Infinite Jest, just simply “stopped” rather than truly ending. A post-millennial trend, he suggested.
Well, isn’t that just great. I want a book to end. I want to know when it ends, and I want a great ending.
I’ve mentioned Infinite Jest in a previous post. It has no plot, no real main character, no story arc, no cohesion even unto itself. And it’s 1,445 pages long! I knew what I was getting myself into when I began it, so it’s my own fault. I’m on page 400 something, and thank goodness the last 400-500 pages are footnotes, and I can pass on those. And, strange as it seems, I have enjoyed DFW’s style, if not subject matter. But now I find that there’s no way of even knowing when to stop reading! It’s a bit much, really.
Perhaps, if I’m lucky, DFW wrote those timeless words at the point where his story just stops: