Two such simple words yet they're so definitive, aren't they? I mean what meaning besides finishing, knowing there is not more, it is done, Finis, Finito, nothing further, can there be? Well, for some novels a lot more - and I'm not talking about a sequel.
I just finished reading THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin. I'm sure you've heard of it? It's received a ton of hype and publicity and for excellent reason. It's a fabulous book. It's more than just a suspense-filled, post-apocalyptic, virus-takes-over-the-world story. It has deep and complex characterization, layers of religious meaning and symbolism and the theme of whether humans have the ability to continue in the face of a hopeless future can resonate with everyone. I was definitely caught up in the story, the characters and I thought I could see the end but when I read the last few lines it left me wondering about the future of these people. It made me question what I believed would happen to them. It could mean This or That (sorry I can't be more specific because I don't want to ruin it if you choose to read it). I finally decided that I wanted it to mean This. My belief was imposed on the ending. It may not be what the author knows will happen but it is my belief and hope. And I wonder if that isn't exactly what Mr. Cronin wanted the reader to impose on his story.
THE PASSAGE has many biblical themes and influences and several chapter titles are called The Book of Sara. So, as when people read the bible, some will believe it to be a true accounting of what happened thousands of years before, others believe the stories to be an allegory that may or may not be reflective of actual events, others don't believe it at all. What you have as a reader is your own beliefs and faith imposed over the words on the paper - the story they are telling. I think THE PASSAGE's ending makes allowances for a reader to choose whether to believe in hope or despair.
As you can probably tell, I'm a fan of endings that aren't exactly clear cut. My own novel has an ending that leaves it open for the reader to decide what the main character will do in the future. The plot and story are definitely wrapped up but the future isn't. I know some readers prefer to know exactly the outcome for the characters. Some even enjoy Epilogues that take place years later showing the evolution of their story (Harry Potter anyone?). But I like the open-endedness of the unknown future. I like imagining future scenarios. But, again, others may not. I remember talking to my brother about the ending of The Sopranos and how it just went to black with the family sitting at a restaurant table about to order dinner and the viewer not knowing if Tony Soprano would be killed or if he could finally live a normal life. My brother said after all that time and investment spent watching the show, he felt gypped. He wanted to KNOW. Yet I thought differently. I liked the ambiguous ending. I thought, this is how Tony will live his life - never knowing what's behind a door. It may be nothing more than a waiter about to bring him his food or it could be a hitman. Tony, like the viewer, will never know what will happen to him. Just like we don't know what will happen in real life. But we live in hope that our future will be a certain way. And it is hope that, once extinguished, means a true end.
So, what about you? Do you need a definitive ending to a story or are you intrigued by the possibilities of the unknown and unwritten?