Great Debates: Divisive Endings
Every reader knows the feeling: You’re reading the most amazing book ever, you’re coming to the end, the pages are dwindling, and everything is building. Then, you finally close the book and all you can say is… “What the fuck?”
Nothing can set a reader’s blood boiling faster than a book that doesn’t end the way that she or he envisioned. Whether it’s been a few hours of reading or years of following a series, it’s the ultimate betrayal.
In the latest installment of our Great Debates series, we take on the endings (to your favorite childhood classics, and more recent releases) that so passionately divided readers. Though this may go without saying—MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Cat in a boat
Yann Martel’s novel of a boy trapped on a boat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger is thrilling, fantastical, and… frustrating. After the ship he and his family were on sinks in the middle of the ocean, young Pi finds himself stuck in a lifeboat with a mini zoo. The animals (a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and tiger) violently kill each other off, until it’s only the tiger and Pi left. Or at least, that’s the story he originally presents when he finally reaches land and is questioned by officials. As they press him for more, he slowly reveals that the story was symbolic. The boat wasn’t filled with animals, it was a cook (hyena), a sailor (zebra), Pi’s mother (orangutan), and Pi himself (tiger). The cook kills both the sailor and Pi’s mother for food, then Pi kills the cook. Suddenly, the fantastic story of survival of man and beast becomes a harrowing tale of the lengths humans will go to in order to survive.
Bookish Votes: When Pi presents both stories and allows the officials the choice of which to believe, not surprisingly, they choose the story with the tiger. Well, Martel, we chose as well. We chose when we picked up the book! We wanted the story about the tiger! Getting to the end of a book to find out everything you invested in is not what it seemed to be is beyond frustrating. Marte’s idea is surely innovative and he told a fantastic story; it just wasn’t the one we thought we were reading.
I volunteer to die
From the moment Katniss said, “I volunteer as tribute!”, you knew what she was all about. Prim was her motivation… her raison d’être. And by the end of the trilogy… Prim is dead.
This controversial death of such a beloved character majorly divided the Hunger Games fandom. Some have gone so far as to declare that this ruined the entire series. After all, Katniss was so focused on Prim’s survival for the entirety of the first two books, she couldn’t think of anything else. She sacrificed love, life, and limb for Prim. Then Prim’s life is over, and Katniss is still expected to go on? No… that’s not what’s meant to happen.
However, others feel Prim’s death was necessary. She was a weakness to Katniss as much as she was a strength—if you wanted to keep Katniss in line, all you needed was to threaten Prim. With her “little duckling” gone, not only is Katniss freed from that weakness, but she can use her anger at Prim’s death to do what needs to be done. It is Prim’s death which leads Katniss to assassinate President Coin and save Panem from another dictator.
Bookish Votes: While we are heartbroken over the death of Prim, who was a better person than Katniss was given her healing abilities, it was probably for the best that she went. Otherwise, Katniss likely wouldn’t have realized the extent of Coin’s corruption and ruthlessness.
Now you see her, now you don’t
After the cerebral and emotional journey of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the ending resonates as either vindicating or frustrating, depending on whose side you were on from the beginning of the book. Part of this stems from the fact that Nick and Amy’s marriage isn’t anywhere near as perfect as it appeared to others from the outside. Neither of the characters is in the right, so it’s hard to know who deserves to suffer more—the cheating husband, or the calculating sociopath?
By the final page, Nick is stuck with Amy and the burden of keeping up appearances. Is this a cop-out, or do Nick and Amy both get exactly what they deserve from the situation: a future with someone they committed to but don’t actually love?
Bookish Votes: We grudgingly accept this ending. On one hand, they sort of deserve each other. But we hate to see Amy get away with all of the awful, incredibly manipulative stuff she did to Nick. That said, Nick did cheat on Amy (whether or not Amy deserved that is a separate conversation), and the feminist in us loves that Amy went to such lengths to punish him for it. This ending felt a little anticlimactic after the book’s major twist, but we don’t hate it.
Jumping the shark
Our first impulse was to write about Y: The Last Man and how its ending stomped on our hearts and then flung them out the window—but the truth is, that was the only proper way Brian K. Vaughan’s first big comics series could conclude. However, we don’t think we can be quite as on-board when it comes to his political series Ex Machina.
Don’t get us wrong, the premise is fantastic: Mitchell Hundred, a superhero who can communicate with machines/technology, runs for mayor of New York City after helping to save the city during 9/11. That final page on the first issue, of the remaining World Trade Center tower that Hundred saved, is one of the most powerful comics splash pages we’ve ever seen. But as the years of this alternate universe stack up, events get more and more outrageous: Mitch has an epiphany where God tells him he’s supposed to run for President of the United States; a nemesis tries to open a portal to hell (what is this, Buffy?); and Mitch learns that there are multiple versions of himself in multiple realities, all grasping for power.
Ex Machina was always a political series, so you can credit Vaughan and co-creator Tony Harris for committing to that. “I suppose someone is always going to be offended or bothered by something,” Vaughan told The A.V. Club in 2010, “but because it was never going to be just a mouthpiece for my own politics, I never worried about trying to make sure everyone liked the character.”
Bookish Votes: We’re all for political commentary in comics, and a superhero saga that ends much darker than most series of its kind. However, we could have done without some of the crazy detours in-between, like Mitchell trying to assassinate the Pope. Despite it having a frustrating ending, even more frustrating were the parts of the series that simply didn’t seem to fit.
May contain peanuts
The ending of Adam Ross’ debut novel Mr. Peanut calls into question everything that has preceded it. Ross examines how love and hate often exist along the same continuum rather than as discrete entities; this observation comes to a head when protagonist David Pepin’s wife, Alice, is found dead with peanuts (to which she is extremely, extremely allergic) and her husband’s fingers in her mouth. The ensuing investigation involves two detectives with marital problems of their own, a hit man named Mobius, and the suggestion that Pepin may have split personalities.
The story doubles back on itself in unexpected ways, and the reader discovers that David Pepin has been writing a book about killing his wife. At the end, Ross parses out what actually happens and how David Pepin’s book ends, but this challenges the reader to retroactively sort through prior events and decide what was “real.”
Bookish Votes: We like it. Ross has created an incredibly intricate, complicated puzzle here with some ambiguities built into the structure to make the reader question the nature of reality (which mirrors Pepin’s day job as a video game designer). It’s understandable why some readers who like narrative realism might be frustrated by this ending, but it’s also hard to argue that Ross hasn’t accomplished something extraordinary here.
Tris’ journey comes full-circle
In all fairness, we should have seen the ending of Allegiant coming when, during Divergent’s climactic battle scene, both of Tris Prior’s parents sacrifice themselves so she can keep up the fight. Since this series is all about learning to understand your parents’ decisions through your own mistakes and triumphs, Tris spent the next two books working up toward her own heroic sacrifice. When she ultimately gives up her life in the final battle, Four is devastated, and fans even more so. After watching the skinny Stiff defend her place in Dauntless and then as Divergent, we couldn’t believe that her life could be snuffed out so easily.
Veronica Roth wrote a fantastic piece defending her choices, which boil down to this: Tris spends the entire trilogy trying to wrap her head around her parents’ sacrifice, and it’s only in Allegiant that she can truly understand the love that underscores those deaths, and her own. That’s where her journey ends; as she asks her mother, “Am I done yet?”
Bookish Votes: While Tris’ death initially came as a shock, we have to commend Roth for committing to the ending that made the most sense to her. (Yes, even after we railed on the How I Met Your Mother writers for doing the same thing! We’ve got a sense of perspective.) It was a bold choice, and it represents the heroine’s journey a lot more than other trilogy conclusions.
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