Does the ending suit you?

I’ve done a lot of reading this summer. I’ve also spent a lot of time studying reader reviews on Amazon, as well as taking part in discussion groups on Goodreads. Two of the books I’ve read, in particular – Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and Lisa Genova’s Inside the O’Briens – had endings with which readers took issue. And I don’t just mean readers saying they didn’t like the ending. I mean readers saying that the ending “stank,” that the author “blew it,” that the ending “ruined” the book. We’re talking over-the-top stridency.

At least, that’s my take on it.  Being an author, I’m sensitive about this.  Perhaps over-sensitive.  But consider this.

I’ve always maintained that you can give six authors the same plot, and they’ll write very different books. Likewise, there may be six different ways for an author to end her own book, but she can pick only one. She does this with care, ending the book in a way that she feels is most consistent with her writing style and her goals.  She can’t please all her readers.  She knows that.  She can only do what she thinks is right for this book into which she has poured her heart and soul for however many months or years the writing has taken. She certainly doesn’t put all possible endings in a hat, close her eyes, and pick one.

But you’d think it, based on some online comments. And not only about endings.  About plot twists, characters, and language.  What about respect for the author’s choices, even if we don’t like them?  What about trying to figure out why the author did what she did before dismissing her as incompetent?

Over the years, I’ve done my share of judging writing contests. And boy, could I have let loose with criticism when an entry hit me the wrong way. Did I? Of course not.  It would have been hurtful, for one thing, and, for another, it would have been counterproductive for a would-be author. Every book has positives, if you make the effort to look for them. A reviewer (or judge) can point these out and then, in constructive terms, point out its failings. Can’t she?

One of the Goodreads discussions I monitored deteriorated when two participants repeatedly went after each other. Each had a point to make and wanted the last word. It became a power struggle. On another board, another member didn’t like the ending of Go Set a Watchman, and went on and on about it, just couldn’t let it go. She actually began listing participants who were on her side, like it was a contest. Seriously.

Lack of civility is rampant in our society. Internet anonymity and talk show vitriol has taken its toll. But we’re intelligent people.  We’re readers. Can’t we rise above this?


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  1. george on July 28, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    We all have opinions, such as about whether or not an ending is good. Give fifty people Go Set a Watchman and you’ll get a variety of responses to that question. No surprise there. We know we have opinions. Where we go astray is when we think our opinion is “right.” And we argue like it’s more right than someone else’s opinion, as if there is such a thing as a “right” opinion, a “right” view. It’s where relationships run into trouble. When we get that there is no “right” view, there’s just yours, and it’s as valid as anyone else’s, there will be better listening between people. When you remove “good” and “bad” from the conversation, then there’s just the way the ending of Go Set a Watchman affects you.

  2. A. K. Middleton on July 29, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Of course, readers shouldn’t be abusive to the author in their opinions of their writing, and everyone does have their own opinion, but I do feel that if a reader puts in a lot of time into reading a novel, and the writing is promising (sometimes even occasionally illuminating or inspiring), and the plot is interesting, but then the ending just drops you, not even resolving all the issues, or resolving them very vaguely, it can be very disappointing. It makes you think, “Why in the world did I waste my time reading this book? I would never recommend it to anyone else. And the sad thing is that the plot had such potential.” Then again, I wouldn’t tell the author that, but would share my opinion with my own friends.

  3. Susan Hughes on July 29, 2015 at 10:42 am

    I do sometimes read a review on Amazon before purchasing a kindle book, but I would never buy books if I took notice of the reviews. We all have different tastes in books. I read the reviews about Jane Greens last book and some people panned it as weak and not one of her best, but purchased it and I loved it.

    We would be odd if we all liked the same things, that’s what makes us individuals.

  4. Pat on July 29, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    People do have differing opinions. Some just can’t seem to write them
    without it sounding mean. If I don’t like a book I just say it wasn’t’ t for me. My friend may love it. Aren’t we lucky to have so many great authors that write different genres of book. My Mother taught me “if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything.”

  5. Karen Boml on July 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Reading is so subjective…..what I find to be amazing, others might think was boring…and vice-versa…..we are all entitled to our opinions and should not lie about our thoughts on a book….however, being a voracious reader for more than 60 years, I’ve read quite a few I wanted to throw against the wall, but didn’t…..instead I gave those authors another chance by trying to read the book at a later date or buying the next one published….sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t… I’ve also seen outright hatred and bashing of books and authors, and I find that very insensitive…..especially by reviewers… reason I don’t read reviews is because of this…..another reason is lots of reviewers give away the whole damn book so why bother reading it? I like making up my own mind thank you very much…..Yes, I’ve wasted lots of money on books I’ll never lend to anyone or recommend…..and at about $25. a h/c it sure adds up……however, over all, I think I’m truly blessed to have “discovered” so many talented authors who I have followed throughout the years,(such as yourself, Nora, Elizabeth Lowell, Linda Howard, James Patterson, etc) and who have hardly ever let me down…..

  6. Scotty on July 30, 2015 at 10:16 am

    My biggest complaint is when the ending is incomplete and you have to read the next one to get the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I love continuing sagas, and connections and references back to previous books, but a story should have an ending in that book. I usually ditch the author when this happens. I understand it is probably a marketing gimmick, but it turns me totally away. Very disappointing to pay top dollar for a book, and not have a conclusion.

  7. Donna on August 2, 2015 at 9:25 am

    For me it works best not to read the reviews on a book because it taints my expectations. I admit I tend to read the same authors because I know what to expect so I don’t feel like the reviews help. I read Go Set A Watchman and am still mulling it over in my mind. One thing that upset me was all the hype about the book before it came out. It was not a To Kill A Mockingbird Bird but even Harper Lee admitted that fact. When your first published book is as big as to Kill a Mockingbird it’s a hard act to follow. I agree that the author has the right to end a book the way she sees the story and I like that some endings are not what I wanted because it makes me think about someone else’s opinion. If they all ended the way I think they should why read them? I like the story to hold my attention all the way through so I can anticipate the ending but at the same time not want it to end because it’s such a good story.

  8. Anne on August 24, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Your comment regarding the growing lack of civility and manners in our society and our lives as well as the need to counter-act it. resonates so strongly with me. Although there are times when one should be honest and truthful, one can do so without being mean. J.M.Barrie’s quote “Always be a little kinder than necessary” comes to mind. Some of the books that I like best are the ones that make me wonder at some point whilst reading or long afterward why the author made some of the choices, even though the story and the writing made me unaware of the author at the time I was reading.

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