Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beautiful Endings

I haven't read a lot of short stories or novels but I've managed to read a few and I'm often struck by how many of those I've read have such beautiful endings and how much I love them for their shear beauty alone.  (Yes, my favorite remains Ernest Hemingway, who may be master of the dying fade - could you end your novel better than "Yes," I said, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" or "After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain." or "He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest."?  But this isn't a post about Hemingway.)

The 'net is full of posts listing the top 10 or 20 or 30 final lines of literature.  I could argue against a few of them but what's the point?  You have your favorites; I have mine.  Let us live together in beautiful story ending peace.

But I bring this up because as part of a free trial of audible books, I downloaded and listened to Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It.  While there are many beautiful passages that caught my ear - as well as a nice aside about the use of the word "beautiful" and how the father uses the word to describe the younger brother - I started thinking about beautiful endings to stories and novels that I love most.  I have room for only a few so let me start with what's probably the indisputable loveliest ending to a short story:
Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.
The Dead
James Joyce
Here's another:
Oh, what can you do with a man like that? What can you do? How can you dissuade his eyes in a crowd from seeking out the cheek with acne, the infirm hand; how can you teach him to respond to the inestimable greatness of the race, the harsh surface beauty of life; how can you put his finger for him on the obdurate truths before which fear and horror are powerless? The sea that morning was iridescent and dark. My wife and my sister were swimming — Diana and Helen — and I saw their uncovered heads, black and gold in the dark water. I saw them come out and I saw that they were naked, unshy, beautiful and full of grace, and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea.
Goodbye, My Brother
John Cheever
Beautiful, agree?  I thought you would.

But let me get back to the reason for this post in the first place.  Though this isn't an ending, this is a lovely passage from A River Runs Through It and it really hit close to home for me  - never mind why.  It's part of a sermon given by the Presbyterian minister father of the narrator of the story and it's the key to the entire story:
Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.
A River Runs Through It

Norman Maclean
Which performs the duel duties of not only being beautiful but pretty much sums up our Christian belief.

But, no, what caught my ear was this: 
Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 
I am haunted by waters.
A River Runs Through It
Norman Maclean
Beautiful, no?  And, c'mon, isn't that enough?  Beauty for the sake of beauty?

Oh, my brothers and sisters, how could you disagree?

(I don't think there's a coincidence that two passages I find beautiful have to do with brothers, or, at least, family members.  Tolstoy was right:  all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.  So it's no wonder that our most powerful stories have to do with our most powerful relationships: those relationships we have with our families.)  

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