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Final words

What books, zines or other pulp are you reading? What aren't you reading? What should everyone else read?

Final words

Postby kurt_w » Wed Jun 08, 2011 8:21 am

Some books are especially memorable for their endings -- the last page, or paragraph, or sentence just reaches out and grabs you.

Here's one that always takes my breath away:

For an instant, the tranced boat's crew stood still; then turned. "The ship? Great God, where is the ship?" Soon they through dim, bewildering mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana; only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea. And now, concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight.

But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched; - at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.


Of course, some might say that's not really the ending, since there is a little epilogue afterwords. But the last words of the epilogue are a pretty good example of the writer's craft, too. Read this aloud, and each comma seems to represent another tack back and forth of the "devious-cruising Rachel" in her hopeless search for her lost sailors:

"On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan. "
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Re: Final words

Postby kurt_w » Wed Jun 08, 2011 8:30 am

Here's something with a bit less drama, but more of a message:

Certainly those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. They were the mixed result of a young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it. A new Theresa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventional life, any more than a new Antigone will spend her heroic piety in daring all for the sake of a brother's burial: the medium in which their ardent deeds took shape is for ever gone. But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know.

Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
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Re: Final words

Postby Madcity Expat » Wed Jun 08, 2011 9:19 am

Thanks ALOT Kurt. I have a fairly busy day of work ahead of me - and now all I want to do is go down in the basement and read the conclusions of my favorite authors.

You've set the bar pretty high with Melville and Eliot [sic]. Do I have to find a passage from Tolstoy, or will mere mortal authors be ok?
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Re: Final words

Postby Marvell » Wed Jun 08, 2011 2:40 pm

Were the squatters there in touch with others, through Tristero; were they helping carry forward that 300 years of the house's disinheritance? Surely they'd forgotten by now what it was the Tristero were to have inherited; as perhaps Oedipa one day might have. What was left to inherit? That America coded in Inverarity's testament, whose was that? She thought of other, immobilized freight cars, where the kids sat on the floor planking and sang back, happy as fat, whatever came over the mother's pocket radio; of other squatters who stretched canvas for lean-tos behind smiling billboards along all the highways, or slept in junkyards in the stripped shells of wrecked Plymouths, or even, daring, spent the night up some pole in a lineman's tent like caterpillars, swung among a web of telephone wires, living in the very copper rigging and secular miracle of communication, untroubled by the dumb voltages flickering their miles, the night long, in the thousands of unheard messages. She remembered drifters she had listened to, Americans speaking their language carefully, scholarly, as if they were in exile from somewhere else invisible yet congruent with the cheered land she lived in; and walkers along the roads at night, zooming in and out of your headlights without looking up, too far from any town to have a real destination. And the voices before and after the dead man's that had phoned at random during the darkest, slowest hours, searching ceaseless among the dial's ten million possibilities for that magical Other who would reveal herself out of the roar of relays, monotone litanies of insult, filth, fantasy, love whose brute repetition must someday call into being the trigger for the unnamable act, the recognition, the Word. How many shared Tristero's secret, as well as its exile? What would the probate judge have to say about spreading some kind of a legacy among them all, all those nameless, maybe as a. first installment? Oboy. He'd be on her ass in a microsecond, revoke her letters testamentary, they'd call her names, proclaim her through all Orange County as a redistributionist and pinko, slip the old man from Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus in as administrator de bonis non and so much baby for code, constellations, shadow-legatees. Who knew? Perhaps she'd be hounded someday as far as joining Tristero itself, if it existed, in its twilight, its aloofness, its waiting. The waiting above all; if not for another set of possibilities to replace those that had conditioned the land to accept any San Narciso among its most tender flesh without a reflex or a cry, then at least, at the very least, waiting for a symmetry of choices to break down, to go skew. She had heard all about excluded middles; they were bad shit, to be avoided; and how had it ever happened here, with the chances once so good for diversity? For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth. In the songs Miles, Dean, Serge and Leonard sang was either some fraction of the truth's numinous beauty (as Mucho now believed) or only a power spectrum. Tremaine the Swastika Salesman's reprieve from holocaust was either an injustice, or the absence of a wind; the bones of the GI's at the bottom of Lake In-verarity were there either for a reason that mattered to the world, or for skin divers and cigarette smokers. Ones and zeroes. So did the couples arrange themselves. At Vesperhaven House either an accommodation reached, in some kind of dignity, with the Angel of Death, or only death and the daily, tedious preparations for it. Another mode of meaning behind the obvious, or none. Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.

Next day, with the courage you find you have when there is nothing more to lose, she got in touch with C. Morris Schrift, and inquired after his mysterious client.

"He decided to attend the auction in person," was all Schrift would tell her. "You might run into him there." She might.

The auction was duly held, on a Sunday afternoon, in perhaps the oldest building in San Narciso, dating from before World War II. Oedipa arrived a few minutes early, alone, and in a cold lobby of gleaming redwood floorboards and the smell of wax and paper, she met Genghis Cohen, who looked genuinely embarrassed.

"Please don't call it a conflict of interests," he drawled earnestly. "There were some lovely Mozambique triangles I couldn't quite resist. May I ask if you've come to bid, Miz Maas."

"No," said Oedipa, "I'm only being a busybody."

"We're in luck. Loren Passerine, the finest auctioneer in the West, will be crying today."

"Will be what?"

"We say an auctioneer 'cries' a sale," Cohen said.

"Your fly is open," whispered Oedipa. She was not sure what she'd do when the bidder revealed himself. She had only some vague idea about causing a scene violent enough to bring the cops into it and find out that way who the man really was. She stood in a patch of sun, among brilliant rising and falling points of dust, trying to get a little warm, wondering if she'd go through with it.

"It's time to start," said Genghis Cohen, offering his arm. The men inside the auction room wore black mohair and had pale, cruel faces. They watched her come in, trying each to conceal his thoughts. Loren Passerine, on his podium, hovered like a puppet-master, his eyes bright, his smile practiced and relentless. He stared at her, smiling, as if saying, I'm surprised you actually came. Oedipa sat alone, toward the back of the room, looking at the napes of necks, trying to guess which one was her target, her enemy, perhaps her proof. An assistant closed the heavy door on the lobby windows and the sun. She heard a lock snap shut; the sound echoed a moment. Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps to a descending angel. The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.
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Re: Final words

Postby fennel » Wed Jun 08, 2011 2:52 pm

Perhaps we need an "Initial words" thread.
For example,

"Mother died today."
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Re: Final words

Postby kurt_w » Wed Jun 08, 2011 7:13 pm

Nice, Marvell. I was mulling over including something from Vineland, but then I realized that the parts that I like most aren't actually the ending itself.

I do like the ending of Ed Abbey's The Fool's Progress. Like Naipaul, Abbey could be a jerk, but he had a unique and incredibly powerful way of using language.
Last edited by kurt_w on Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Final words

Postby fennel » Wed Jun 08, 2011 7:59 pm

kurt_w wrote:Nice, Marvel. I was mulling over including something from Vineland, but then I realized that the parts that I like most aren't actually the ending itself.
Wow. Given the length, I assumed Marvell had posted the work in it's entirety. Someone ought to republish that via Twitter.

Here's another. (I'll stick to the final paragraph):

He stared gratefully at the back of Myrna's head, at the pigtail that swung innocently at his knee. Gratefully. How ironic, Ignatius thought. Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache.
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Re: Final words

Postby Marvell » Wed Jun 08, 2011 9:54 pm

fennel wrote:Wow. Given the length, I assumed Marvell had posted the work in it's entirety. Someone ought to republish that via Twitter.



And people wonder why literature is dead.
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Re: Final words

Postby fennel » Wed Jun 08, 2011 10:34 pm

Marvell wrote:And people wonder why literature is dead.

Oh, c'mon, now. Do you weigh it by the pound? Where do you gauge the intake of breath versus the effluent of verbiage?

Let your sumptuous literary dish have a rest and look again tomorrow. Literature doesn't need to scream or blather on like a text-laden freight car. Let breath have her say.
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Re: Final words

Postby kurt_w » Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:32 am

fennel wrote:Perhaps we need an "Initial words" thread.
For example,

"Mother died today."


It was the day my grandmother exploded.


They shoot the white girl first.


The opening of a book can be a dangerous place to be female, apparently.

Some opening lines are amusing:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.


More here.
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Re: Final words

Postby kurt_w » Thu Jun 09, 2011 6:44 am

Back to endings:

He'll check the road once more, let up on the gas pedal, lean toward her, smiling, and stare straight into her big solemn hazel-brown eyes with his red iron-flecked squinting happy eyes and say, What do you see, Ellie?
She will look hard, concentrating, thinking.
Hey? What do you see?
Dad? Well . . . you're crazy as a bedbug.
Yeah yeah sure, but what else? He'll glance at the highway again, no traffic in sight, nothing ahead but the fiery glow of the city, the glare of the descending sun, the dust, the smoke, and return his gaze to his daughter. What do you see, sweetheart? Look me in the eyeballs ball to ball and tell me what you see.
I see a crazy cuckoo Daddy.
What else?
Her nose is sunburned, starting to peel, her lips chapped, but she will crack a tiny smile. A growing smile, matching his. I see . . . lights. Little lights jumping around.
Dancing. He'll check the road again, the car slowing, wheels grating on the tin cans and gravel of the shoulder, and look once more into the girl's eyes. What color?
She'll laugh. Red.
Right. And what does red mean?
She will laugh again. Same as always: full speed ahead.
Right, he will yell, you got it. He'll pull her small body firmly to his side, steer back onto the pavement, press the pedal to the floor.
The big brute motor will grumble like a lion, old, tired, hesitating, then catch fire and roar, eight-hearted in its block of iron, driving onward, westward always, into the sun . . . .
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Re: Final words

Postby Marvell » Thu Jun 09, 2011 9:14 am

fennel wrote:
Marvell wrote:And people wonder why literature is dead.

Oh, c'mon, now. Do you weigh it by the pound?


Apparently you do.
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Re: Final words

Postby bdog » Thu Jun 09, 2011 8:03 pm

From my capricious memory, and the English translation:

He is a Gorilla.


from "La Planète des singes" by Pierre Boulle
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Re: Final words

Postby minicat » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:08 am

"Well," said Hal Dozier faintly, "what can you do with a man who don't how how to choose between a horse and a girl?"


Way of the Lawless, Max Brand
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Re: Final words

Postby Detritus » Sun Jun 19, 2011 11:25 am

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

First edition of Origin of the Species (1859).
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