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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Joy of the Unsatisfying Ending

Why yes, I did just use joy and unsatisfying to describe the same thing.

It may sound odd. I mean, by definition something that is unsatisfying shouldn't bring you joy. And yet, there really is something special about an ending that is tainted ever so slightly with dissatisfaction.

Maybe one of my favorite characters died, maybe the ending was left open to interpretation, or maybe there was a last minute twist that was never resolved – whatever it was, I find these unsatisfying endings often end up being some of my favorites.

One reason is that, when an author writes such an ending, knowing full well that it is evil, she runs the risk of pissing off more than a few fans. But she does it anyway. Because, ultimately, it’s what the author feels is the right ending for the story. As a result, the ending is gutsy and genuine, and I have a great deal of respect for the author.

Even better, an open or unsatisfying ending often causes the story to linger in my mind. Because it wasn’t happy or ideal, my brain just gets stuck on it. I remember what led up to that ending and mull over the many possibilities that could come after the point where the book left off. It is because of this that I fall in love with books whose endings leave me wanting more. The Sweet Far Thing, Shiver, Nightshade – they are all novels that left me either shell-shocked or desperate for more at the end. They all also happen to be some of my absolute favorite books.

The real reason for my love of unsatisfying endings, though, is that I love the realism. I am not a cynic, nor am I a hopeless romantic. I am somewhere in between. And while a nice bow-wrap ending does make me smile, more often than not I find myself a little let down. Life isn’t perfect and true happy endings are few and far between. Even when they do happen, they don’t last forever in an eternal state of bliss. I love literature that acknowledges that not-so-sweet truth.

There are some series I simply love too much to see them end happily. I would much rather be left tearing up or wanting to know more than have everything end happily in puppies and rainbows. Frankly, it would feel wrong. It’s one of the reasons that, to this day, I cannot stand Mockingjay or Breaking Dawn.

So, while I don’t want every novel I read to end sadly or without resolution, there is undeniably a joy in a well-written unsatisfying ending. 

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