This post will contain spoilers for Lois Lowry’s classic “The Giver” as well as the two novels I read most recently, Gin Phillip’s “Fierce Kingdom” and Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves.” So if you don’t want any of those spoiled, get outta here…
Anyway, as per the title, I HATE VAGUE ENDINGS. I get their literary merit and the idea of leaving things up to the readers’ interpretation and all that CRAP. (haha). But I like answers! I like loose threads that get tied up! I like knowing when a character LIVES OR DIES!
My first experience with this, that I can remember at least, was with The Giver. Jonas saves the baby and sleds away from town, toward the sound of music, and… that’s it. Do they live? Do they make it to the next town where they can live a normal, color-filled life? Was it some weird metaphor for freezing to death and everything Jonas did was for nought???
After years of questions, Lowry ended up writing a follow-up book to confirm that they both lived. I don’t think it retroactively makes me more pleased with Giver’s ending, though. I would have preferred answers in the original text. Not even like a long denouement that showed the boys getting established in the town, just less ambiguity about whether it was life or death.
With Seveneves, the book takes place about 2/3 in the present and 1/3 in the future, with completely different characters. It was an abrupt shift that I struggled with, since I didn’t care about the new characters and wasn’t sure that any plot was happening. When they finally got a plot going again, rather than just “look at all this info dump about how we made the world work 5,000 years in the future,” but “see how there are all these groups that are going to have to interact to thrive and avoid war?” … it ended. Intro all these new groups and, the end. It didn’t make any sense! Were they going to be able to work it out? Was the Red group going to get what was coming to them?
(And that says nothing about how I was able to believe that the group in space survived and rebuilt their society after 5,000 years, yet I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the idea that the group living in a cave or the group living below the sea would have made it through the earth’s years of burning…)
Then there’s Fierce Kingdom. The entire story takes place within a few hours: Joan is at the zoo with her 4-year-old son, Lincoln, when active shooters start killing all the people and animals in the zoo. She has to try to hide and save them both. It’s soooooo suspenseful and therefore very stressful. It was probably not the best choice for me to read it, considering how much anxiety I have about keeping baby Sam alive every day. But I knew in my heart they wouldn’t kill a 4-year-old, even though I know nothing about this author and she could have pulled a G.R.R. Martin “literally everyone dies mwahaha” on me.
And how does it end? (I warned you about spoilers, remember.) With the mom getting shot and YOU DON’T KNOW IF SHE LIVES OR DIES. I am choosing choosing choosing to believe she lives–she is found by an EMT and loaded onto a gurney. Her strange fadeout could be her losing consciousness due to blood loss as they take her to be FIXED in the hospital. But after a bit of Googling I see that many people interpret her fadeout as death, especially with the hints throughout the book of how she’d want her final moments to be (which matched up to how the final moments of the book were). UGH!!! I don’t LIKE IT!
(And once again, there are a bunch of other loose ends that get ignored with this ending. Did somebody save the baby in the trash can? Did all the shooters get taken down successfully? Were there other survivors? What was Paul doing the entire time once Joan’s phone was gone??)
So… yeah. Am I aware this entire post sounds whiney? Yep! But I’m speaking my truth, y’all. And the truth is, I like to know the author’s specific vision for their characters, rather than being left with major blanks to fill after turning the final page. I won’t be an author who hands out vague endings. When readers have committed so many hours to their investment in a book’s world and characters, they deserve a satisfactory payoff.