Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (review pending) has been sitting in the stack of books I brought home from my library months ago. The setting intrigued me; I’ve been fascinated by pre-Korean War Korea lately. But then I started to see readers on the Silent Book Club complain about the ending. I read the book anyway…and I discovered exactly why all those readers were disgruntled.
An unsatisfying conclusion to a book that is otherwise quite good seems to be just that much worse, like a smack in the face after someone has offered you a nice meal. The experience of reading Pachinko led me to thinking about what I consider a bad ending. As it turns out, there are a several types of endings that I hate. This list doesn’t include rushed endings (that’s just bad pacing) or implausible endings (that’s bad writing). This list includes the types of endings that actually make me angry, assuming that I like the rest of the book.
It Just Ends & Cliffhangers
After spending hundreds of pages with a character, the book seems to just suddenly stop. I have been tricked by books like this only a couple of times, thankfully. With Pachinko, the ending was so abrupt I turned the page and got confused because I was suddenly reading the writer’s acknowledgements. I put cliffhangers in this category because they also just end, though they’re supposed to encourage readers to get the next book in the series. I’m not sure which is worse: a ploy to keep me getting books or a sudden stop with no resolution whatsoever.
Undeserved Happily Ever After
I am a fan of bittersweet or even tragic endings. Not every book needs a happy ending; sometimes an unhappy ending is the only way to conclude a story. So it bothers me when I see the writer suddenly sweeping away the storm clouds, tie up loose ends with Dickensian coincidences or dei ex machinis*, and have everything work out for the protagonist so that they can get married/defeat the baddie/do the thing/etc.
Out of Character Resolution
This is similar to the undeserved happy ending in that it involves sudden changes so that the book can end happily. The difference is that instead of dropping in a deus ex machina or a Dickens move, it involves a character just suddenly deciding that the thing they were hung up on doesn’t matter so that they can get married/defeat the baddie/do the thing/etc. This kind of ending makes me feel like I’ve wasted time putting up with the protagonist’s struggles.
What other kinds of endings do you hate?
* Thanks to Smithereens for giving me the correct plural.