So here's an open question to the readers of this blog. When it comes to endings, what the hell do you want? I ask this because "lousy ending" is perhaps the number one book review complaint. "Promising, but he wrote himself into a corner." "Good book, but the ending was a letdown." I can't tell you how many reviews of my work make criticisms like these. The "wrote himself into a corner" one really rankles, as it suggests that the writer is incompetent--that he doesn't know how to end a book. In my case, when I got that one, I was enraged: I ended the book in question precisely the way I wanted to, and was perfectly satisfied--at the time anyway.
Personally, I am rarely disappointed by a book's ending. Almost never, in fact. If I like a book all the way through, I almost always like the way it ends, too, unless the writer tries some audacious and/or desperate thing that falls flat (I'm sure we can all name a few examples of those). Books that just kind of stop are perfectly OK with me. So are epilogues that describe the future, or flashbacks, or unrequited affairs, or unsolved mysteries.
Ultimately, I don't care what a book is about. All I really care about is the experience of reading it--of the writer's frame of reference to the world, of her way of seeing. Of course I am attracted by certain subjects--crime, artistic endeavor, intense cogitation in narrative--but ultimately it doesn't matter. What's important is the human fabric of the book: the voice, the characters, the way one thought flows into another. I like texture and nuance. I like odd juxtapositions and interesting problems.
I wonder if people who desire certain kinds of endings, or have particular expectations for what an ending should do, are people who care too much what books are about. Could that be the problem? Or is it something else? Because honestly, I have never read a review in which the reviewer suggests alternate endings that would work better. They never say what they want! They only say they were disappointed.
Is it "closure" people want? I hope not. Resolution? The pieces fitting together? High drama? Secrets revealed? Lyrical flights? Somebody help me out here. I honestly believe that many good books cannot have satisfying endings--that some of the best books just simply can't be ended. There is nothing wrong wtih this. Some stories need to be this way. David Foster Wallace wrote a lot of them--that's one of the reasons I liked him.
When you don't like the ending of a book--putting aside big, dramatic blunders--what is it exactly that you don't like?