Welcome back, loyal listeners! Short story author Dennis Fulgoni joins us this week to talk about our favorite endings. Hope you enjoy the episode as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Be sure to subscribe!
Our favorite endings:
Dennis: Cynthia Ozick, The Shawl–this story, set during the Holocaust, is so powerful it gives me the chills each time I read it. In short, a mother is hiding her daughter under a shawl so the Nazi’s will not kill her. Eventually, her mother loses sight of her at one of the camps, a soldier finds her, and he kills her by throwing her against an electric fence. To stop herself from screaming, the mother stuffs the corner of the shawl into her mouth (just as she had done for her daughter to prevent her from crying)…the last image is of her sucking the shawl dry. So powerful because the emotion builds to a breaking point, and the image of the mother sucking on the shawl echoes the helplessness and cruelty of the world she finds herself in.
Aaron: A Small, Good Thing (also The Bath)–the entire story is set around the family of a boy who was hit by a car days before his birthday. While we want to know if he’ll live or die, the baker works on (in ignorance of the tragic event) on Scotty’s cake. At the end, the parents sit down with the baker, talk with him. It’s a beautiful image of companionship after a deep loss. It pays off because of the agonizing waiting the reader does throughout the story.
Al: Since we’re being literary one my favorite endings if from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The book is about the horrors of aging, the glory of passing on knowledge, and the love a boy can have for an old man even when everyone has given up on him.
Dennis: A Good Man is Hard to Find: One of my favorite stories. One of the last lines, spoken by the Misfit, goes: “She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” I love this line because it exemplifies everything we’ve been feeling about the grandmother. There is so much to dislike about her, yet we feel a certain empathy for her at the end. I also love the ending because O’Conner has telegraphed it at the beginning–they are actually reading about the misfit in the paper before their trip–and yet it still feels fresh, alive and unexpected. Just goes to show that in a master story teller’s hands, anything is possible.
Aaron: The Life You Save May Be Your Own–this has an endings you don’t see coming, the “unexpected but inevitable ending” as O’Connor was so fond of saying. It ends on a highly symbolic, but still literal ending, which works on a wonderfully ironic level.
Dennis: The School, Donald Barthelme–great story about death and redemption and the cycles of life, the ending is awesome because of how funny it is. The whole tone of the story is playful and uncertain, and the ending stays with that tone only it takes it one step further as we enter the absurd. As with all the endings I’ve talked about this one is strangely moving, without for a minute being sentimental. This is a great example of how tone can determine an ending. Setting up things the way he has, he has free reign to be as absurd as he wants to achieve his purpose in the end.
Aaron: In the Cemetery…–This work well because it’s set up at the beginning, and the rest of the story distracts you from it. By the time it comes back, you’re left in an emotional lurch.
Al: One of my favorite books is Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. “And on far-off Earth, Dr. Carlisle Perera had as yet told no one how he had wakened from a restless sleep with the message from his subconscious still echoing in his brain: The Ramans do everything in threes.”
Dennis: Powder, Tobias Wolff–In this story a father and son go on a skiing trip with the mother, and is hoping that after this trip they can reconcile. Wolff does a trip just before Christmas. The father is separated from his wife, the narrator’s brilliant job of depicting this father–a risk taker, a charmer, a liar– in a few brush strokes. Of course things go awry and the father fears he won’t be able to get his son home in time for Christmas because of a road closure (and he knows his mother will consider this the last straw). Using his charms, the father finds a way around the closure. The story ends with their drive through fresh powdered snow. The ending works so well because it exemplifies the father’s character traits and contrasts them with the son’s. The ending has powerful emotional resonance because the narrator in this final moment–and we understand this is probably one of the last times the father and son will be together like this–realizes that although his father is in many ways a bankrupt soul, he is also talented and beautiful. In other words, the ending showcases the father’s character, and reveals unexpected validations within it.
Aaron: Waterwalkers (and other Bret Anthony Johnston shorts) This ends in the past. While the story is terribly tragic, it ends on a happy note on the flashback, which gives a sense of hope for the couple.
Molly: The Yellow Wallpaper. A favorite story in college. A woman essentially goes crazy and her husband takes her away for some time. The story is her decline into madness. It’s also the inspiration for A White Room, written by friend and former guest, Stephanie Carroll.
Our favorites we’ve written:
Dennis: Dead Man’s Nail–the final image of the nail clutched in his hand. The nail represents his individuality. The narrator has gone on an anti-hero’s journey, and in a last desperate moment while running away from a humiliating situation, he clutches to what makes him most unique in the world. The ending is meant to convey loss and pain, but also hope. It is exemplified in the physical object of the nail, which serves as an ironic symbol for the narrator.
Aaron: Leaving Tennessee–the unexpected but inevitable, a hopeful forgiveness.
Molly: Walker Smith. A short story I wrote in college which won a publication contest. It’s about a man who did something terrible, but we never find out what it is. Unfortunately, he died before his child was born and she grew up wondering about him. The ending has her as an adult, speaking to his grave.
Al: Wounds–The less than happy, happy ending.
Dennis: At the Broken Places–final image a tender one (father with hand over his son’s heart)…the whole story he’s been preparing the dead body of a boy of the same age, stitching him together at the broken places. Now he is reaffirming life, as his heart rhythm falls into sync with his son’s. The ending is again meant to signify hope and love and goodness after the aftermath of such a tragic event. There is also a lot of parallelism in the story, which resonates with the good and evil aspects of the human heart.
Aaron: What We’re Left With–the pacing of it, the imagery, the frantic pace at the end.
Dennis: Thunder–the ending of this story echoes everything that has come before. The narrator puts his son on his back and starts shooting around the living room because he is going to make a change in his life and he wants to prepare his son for the “wildness.” The thing the narrator had rejected–the seemingly wild life of the motorcycle gang–he ultimately embraces. He’s become the thing he set out to destroy.