So, a month ago, I wrote a post, To Begin at the Beginning, which was about great opening lines (and also, apparently, proof that I love Pat Robertson), and I always meant to follow it up with the obvious corrollary: great closing lines. When I think of my favorite book endings, one of the first ones I think of is the last paragraph of On the Road:
“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
Despite the fact that I have been out of my “I Heart The Beats” phase for several years now, this piece of writing always gets me just so. I think for a closing line (or paragraph) to be perfect — even if it doesn’t tie the story up in a neat little package — it leaves things well, so that even if I couldn’t have ever seen those exact lines coming (and I shouldn’t be able to), I know after I read them, that the book couldn’t have ended any other way.
A few of my other favorites are:
— “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky — seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.” (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. Hey, just because I am not completely in love with the book doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the last line.)
— “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!” (Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”)
— “The cars were honking their horns, and I heard the shouts of angry people. It was in such circumstances that Agnes longed to buy a forget-me-not, a single forget-me-not stem; she longed to hold it before her eyes as a last, scarcely visible trace of beauty.” (Milan Kundera, Immortality. Have I ever mentioned that the first time I read this book, I thought it was so perfect that I read this last part about 10 times just because I didn’t want the book to end? It’s true, I did.)
— “And stone among the stones, he returned in the joy of his heart to the truth of the motionless worlds.” (Albert Camus, A Happy Death)
— “It was, at last, real life, with my heart safe and condemned to die of happy love in the joyful agony of any day after my hundredth birthday.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores)
— “The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and serene again as cornice and facade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.” (William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury)
So, those are some of my picks. If you have any favorites, feel free to add them.