I recently read a masterpiece by Richard Yates titled Revolutionary Road. You may have read it, or seen the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
The entire book left me in awe, frankly. But why I’m posting today is the ending was just so perfect. A man is sitting in his chair while his wife prattles on and on, perhaps representing the banalities and sometimes-pettiness of suburban life, the smallness of minds. She goes on uninterrupted for almost two full pages. Then he comes the final paragraph:
But from there on Howard Givings heard only a welcome, thunderous sea of silence. He had turned off his hearing aid.
Wow. The end.
A thunderous sea of silence.
And by best last line I should say, best ending for that specific book. For Revolutionary Road, the man turning off his hearing aid was just right. Shutting out the noise.
Anyway, that ending reminded me of all old post I had written maybe four or five years ago. Since I think it still has entertainment value, here you go . . .
Stylist magazine has put together a list of The Best 100 Closing Lines from Books. Here’s a few of my favorites . . .
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Animal Farm, George Orwell
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Steig Larsson
“She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.”
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
“It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.”
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
“A last note from your narrator. I am haunted by humans.”
The Beach, Alex Garland
“I’m fine. I have bad dreams but I never saw Mister Duck again. I play video games. I smoke a little dope. I got my thousand-yard stare. I carry a lot of scars. I like the way that sounds. I carry a lot of scars.”
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
“The old man was dreaming about the lions.”
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
“I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
“Are there any questions?”
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
“I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran.”
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
“She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
“I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”
The Outcast, Sadie Jones
“He didn’t think about it, he went straight to a seat facing forwards, so that he could see where he was going.”
Before I Die, Jenny Downham
“Light falls through the window, falls onto me, into me. Moments. All gathering towards this one.”
They also compiled a list of 100 Best Opening Lines from Books.
As an author, I guess it’s something to think about. It’s even more important with picture books. As James Marshall once told me in an interview, “The ending is what people remember. If the book fizzles at the end, they remember the whole thing as a fizzled book. It’s important to have a very satisfying ending for the reader. They’ve entered a world and now they are leaving it.”
Perhaps my best closing line comes from Hiccups for Elephant:
From A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, as “Red” enters the library:
“I passed the mess and crossed the halls. Until thar she blew — me treasure!”
From longer works, I especially like the closing lines from Along Came Spider:
“Without looking back, Trey nodded, yes, tomorrow, then stepped inside, yes, and was gone.”
Here’s the closing lines from Bystander:
“All the while quietly hoping — in that place of the heart where words sputter and dissolve, where secret dreams are born and scarcely admitted — to score winning baskets for the home team. To take it to the hole and go up strong. Fearless, triumphant. The crowd on their feet. His father in the stands, cheering.”
Recently a reviewer wrote that the last line of The Fall brought tears to her eyes, that it wasn’t until the final moment that she fully realized the book had touched her in that way.
I don’t think it was the brilliance of the last line, but more the culmination of feeling. Here it is anyway:
“I guess I will remember everything. Your friend, Sam Proctor.”
And while I’m updating this section with recent titles, I also like the last lines of Before You Go, if you don’t mind me saying so:
“He didn’t know what would happen with Becka. Maybe that’s why he needed to be alone on the beach, to watch the sunrise, to be okay with himself, despite everything. Sometimes life seemed impossibly hard, full of car wrecks and souls that shined like stars in yellow dresses. So much heartbreak and undertow. Jude bent down, picked up a smooth white stone, measured its heft in his hand. And he reached back and cast that rock as far as he could.
Just to see the splash.”