Choose Your Own Conclusion

S. Hope Mills spots a provocative passage from a recent Tim Parks essay about not finishing books:

To put a novel down before the end, then, is simply to acknowledge that for me its shape, its aesthetic quality, is in the weave of the plot and, with the best novels, in the meshing of the writing style with that weave. Style and plot, overall vision and local detail, fascinate together, in a perfect tangle. Once the structure has been set up and the narrative ball is rolling, the need for an end is just an unfortunate burden, an embarrassment, a deplorable closure of so much possibility.

Mills comments:

The idea of an ending as an “unfortunate burden” may be a bit dramatic, but the other idea, that a novel’s possibility doesn’t rest solely on the ending, is an interesting one. Engaging a good story, isn’t—and can’t be—a highly controlled experience. While we writers would like for readers to feel our sentences, interpret our characters and move through the story exactly as we intended, we can’t talk them through the experience page by page. We have to leave quite a lot in their hands. And frankly, when we’re on the other side, as readers, those are the stories we love best, the ones where we’re equipped and then trusted to figure things out for ourselves.

When I think about what I’ve long loved about reading, it’s the different worlds that scoop me up, my senses fully engaged. The writer, of course, is my guide, but I still have a role to play, too—I’m interacting with the information that’s been given to me. That’s what makes the deepest reading experience. And because this is my story now, too, I might be ready for closure sooner than another reader, sooner even than the author.