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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

entry arrow9:01 PM | Endings.

Two things -- a book and a movie -- made me think about the way endings should come for those of us who love stories. I finished Diane Setterfield's much-praised The Thirteenth Tale a little more than two weeks ago, and had initially raved about its beautiful beginning (it contained great paragraphs about writing and reading -- which tickled the bookworm in me), even recommending it to some friends. "You must buy the book," I told them. (Two did.) But then the love affair quickly fizzled for me when the magic of Setterfield's prose segued to mere plodding once she shifted gears to accommodate the twists that usually come for stories like these. In the end, I turned the last page disappointed over something that had so much promise at the start, but turned out to be a dud in the end. Still, it was an entertaining read, but it made me wonder how Setterfield came to such an uninspired last act. In my reflection, I realize that in my stories as well, going towards an appropriate and/or satisfying ending is something quite hard to do. I long to do a magic last act, such as the tearful letter from Jacinta in Dean's Salamanca. The initial rush of excitement will have generally subsided, and one's store of words and beautiful turns of phrases have become depleted or stilted. Sometimes, one finds himself in an unconscious hurry to finish off the tale, just because.

Last Wednesday, for my Film Appreciation class, I watched Giuseppe Tornatore's extended version of his award-winning Cinema Paradiso (1989). It was no longer the movie I remember loving so much. This version, released in 2003, restores the 51 minutes that Harvey Feinstein of Miramax had cut from the original film, deleted scenes that contain an extended explication of the aborted love affair between Toto and Elena. I hated the last hour so much, it felt like a betrayal. It did not belong at all to what can be considered the heart of the film, which is the original first two hours. Roger Ebert had reviewed the 2003 version: "I must confess that the shorter version of Cinema Paradiso is a better film than the longer. Harvey was right. The 170-minute cut overstays its welcome, and continues after its natural climax. Still, I'm happy to have seen it -- not as an alternate version, but as the ultimate exercise in viewing deleted scenes. Anyone who loves the film will indeed be curious about 'what really happened to the love of a lifetime,' and it is good to know. I hope, however, that this new version doesn't replace the old one on the video shelves; the ideal solution would be a DVD with the 1988 version on one side and the 2002 version on the other."

The Thirteenth Tale seems to me to be a case of a botched ending because the author has decided to rush towards the finish, while still accommodating an uninspired twist. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is the complete opposite: it goes on and on, and does not seem to know when to stop.

Endings are crucial. I quote The New York Times' Charles McGrath quoting somebody else in understanding the value of narrative closure: "In The Sense of an Ending, a classic text of literary theory, the critic Frank Kermode says we crave endings for the same reason that some religious sects look forward to the Apocalypse — because it’s the ending that gives shape and meaning to the otherwise random events that precede it."

I'm sharing something about endings I got from Timothy Montes, and which I shared with my LitCritters a few Saturdays ago...

As in beginnings, story endings come in varied forms. The difficulty with endings is that you cannot isolate it from the rest of a story. The resolution of a conflict depends upon past events in a story.

What should be emphasized, though, is the importance of endings not only in giving closure to a plot but also in conveying a "sense" of ending. The emotional tone of the ending of a story is what readers carry along with them after they finish reading your story. Many "modern" stories are open-ended, with conflicts unresolved and characters left hanging, but the resolution lies with the tone, with the revelation of a powerful insight, or even just by the pure lyricism of the language.

A good way to imagine endings would be through music. Carlos Ojeda Aureus likens the ending of Nick Joaquin’s “May Day Eve” with the coda of a Beethoven symphony with the different thematic strands woven together in a glorious ending by tympani and clashing cymbals; some stories by Charlson Ong end like fragile concertos of Chopin, as a ballerina ends a dance with one foot in the air. Indeed, whole stories can be likened to music in architectonic design if not in effect. Let us take a look at some endings. Note the sense of finality, of tension between closure and open-endedness, of emphasis -- of a sense of a door closing.

Certain closure:
“Now we could finally lay to rest our dream of his return. It was over: the hope, the uncertainty, and the silent wait by the window for an old man leading his long weary shadow home.”

From “The Homing Mandarin” by Jaime An Lim
Closure with tail flick:
“Papa’s marker is a starry black slab gleaming with silver flecks, smooth and seamless at the top, bevelled at the edges, like a dark gem. We gather here only once a year, to collect ourselves and perhaps to celebrate another year, another change of seasons. I don’t know where they buried Moroy, although I am sure he is somewhere close by.”

From “Nilda” by Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta

Frozen moment:
“There is an endless road somewhere, and on that road speeds a hand-me-down rattletrap bus on an endless trip, and somewhere near the back of that bus, you and I are snugly squeezed into one of the two-seater benches, with you next to the window and me next to the aisle, holding hands like schoolchildren, talking, occasionally smiling at each other, looking like we will never let go.”

From “Passengers” by Luis Joaquin Katigbak

Use of symbols and primal images:
“He walked a step behind, the bull lumbering in front. More than ever he was conscious of her person. She carried the jar on her head without holding it. Her hands swung to her even steps. He threw back his square shoulders, lifted his chin, and sniffed the motionless air. He felt strong. He felt very strong. He felt that he could follow the slender, lithe figure ahead of him to the ends of the world.”

From “Midsummer” by Manuel Arguilla

“A little green snake slithered languidly into the tall grass a few yards from the kalamansi tree. Tinang started violently and remembered her child. It lay motionless on the mat of husk. With a shriek she grabbed it wildly and hugged it close. The baby awoke from its sleep and cried lustily. Ave Maria Santisima. Do not punish me, she prayed, searching the baby’s skin for marks. Among the cornhusks, the letter fell unnoticed.”

From “Love in the Cornhusks” by Aida Rivera Ford

Read “May Day Eve” by Nick Joaquin where the ending is a variation of the beginning of the story. The old people had ordered that the dancing should stop at ten o’clock but it was almost midnight before the carriages came filing up the departing guests, while the girls who were staying were promptly herded upstairs to the bedrooms, the young men gathering around to wish them a good night and lamenting their ascent with mock signs and moaning, proclaiming themselves disconsolate but straightway going off to finish the punch and the brandy though they were quite drunk already and simply bursting with wild spirits, merriment, arrogance and audacity, for they were young bucks newly arrived from Europe; the ball had been in their honor; and they had waltzed and polka-ed and bragged and swaggered and flirted all night and where in no mood to sleep yet—no, caramba, not on this moist tropic eve! not on this mystic May eve!—with the night still young and so seductive that it was madness not to go out, not to go forth---and serenade the neighbors! cried one; and swim in the Pasig! cried another; and gather fireflies! cried a third—whereupon there arose a great clamor for coats and capes, for hats and canes, and they were a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage rattled away upon the cobbles while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tile roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wile sky murky with clouds, save where an evil young moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable childhood fragrances or ripe guavas to the young men trooping so uproariously down the street that the girls who were desiring upstairs in the bedrooms catered screaming to the windows, crowded giggling at the windows, but were soon sighing amorously over those young men bawling below; over those wicked young men and their handsome apparel, their proud flashing eyes, and their elegant mustaches so black and vivid in the moonlight that the girls were quite ravished with love, and began crying to one another how carefree were men but how awful to be a girl and what a horrid, horrid world it was, till old Anastasia plucked them off by the ear or the pigtail and chases them off to bed—while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobble and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his great voice booming through the night, “Guardia serno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o.”

From the beginning

And remembering how she had sobbed so piteously; remembering how she had bitten his hand and fled and how he had sung aloud in the dark room and surprised his heart in the instant of falling in love: such a grief tore up his throat and eyes that he felt ashamed before the boy; pushed the boy away; stood up and looked out—looked out upon the medieval shadows of the foul street where a couple of street-lamps flickered and a last carriage was rattling away upon the cobbles, while the blind black houses muttered hush-hush, their tiled roofs looming like sinister chessboards against a wild sky murky with clouds, save where an evil old moon prowled about in a corner or where a murderous wind whirled, whistling and whining, smelling now of the sea and now of the summer orchards and wafting unbearable the window; the bowed old man sobbing so bitterly at the window; the tears streaming down his cheeks and the wind in his hair and one hand pressed to his mouth—while from up the street came the clackety-clack of the watchman’s boots on the cobbles, and the clang-clang of his lantern against his knee, and the mighty roll of his voice booming through the night: “Guardia sereno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o!”

From the ending

Flashback/Fade out:
"Once it was Christmas day. They were driving from home, from the house their father had built in the country. A deer jumped the road in front of them, clearing the snow, the pavement, the fences of the fields, in two bounds. Beyond its arc the hills rumpled in snow. The narrow road wound through white meadows, across the creek, and on. Her father was driving. Her brothers had shining play pistols with leather holsters. Her mother wore clip-on earrings of tiny wreaths. They were all dressed in new clothes, and they moved down the road, through the trees.”

From “The Heavenly Animal” by Jayne Anne Phillips

The end.

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