What about tying it all together?
There’s this guy Chad Harbach who wrote The Art of Fielding and recently released an anthology of essays called MFA vs. NYC. There’s a lot of heavy stuff in there, and I’m processing through it still, but this point from a Chad Harbach/Rumpus interview has a certain resonance right now:
Rumpus: You say at one point in MFA vs NYC that “the best young NYC novelists go to great lengths to write comprehensible prose and tie their plots neat as a bow. How one longs, in a way, for endings like that of Don DeLillo’s first novel, Americana, where everyone just pees on everyone else for no reason.” Now, first of all: good book and great ending. But do you think that’s really true about contemporary novelists going to great lengths to deliver neat endings now? Is that a pressure you yourself have felt?
Harbach: That part of the essay is a tiny bit polemical, I guess. I think the demise of the trade publishing industry has been over-advertised, but there is a way in which, as opposed to several decades ago, there is more pressure on the individual book to sell. There’s more pressure from the publisher. There’s more of a mindset whereby each book an author writes is a money-making proposition. So the idea of the writer who writes nineteen novels, with various ups and downs and levels of experimentation, isn’t around so much now. There’s a focus, I think, on fewer books, with more pressure on each book to succeed. With that there comes, I think, a certain pressure towards shapeliness in fiction. Towards neatness. And I think writers feel that, and it can effect how they write.
This is a tendency towards neatness, I think. Many people want to realize a nice, happy conclusion which is something television is doing really well right now. We’re afraid the reader won’t accept the confusion, or it’s not worth reading if an ending is ambiguous. We want the story to end because it’s the last page, rather than recognizing the story might continue in another direction beyond what’s written.
I just mangled this retelling to Dave Wright, but I feel like I read in an interview with Jonathan Franzen that he wasn’t bold enough to end his early books the way he wanted to, maybe to the opposite of Harbach’s point, to have a definitive end. He may have speaking about his first novel, Twenty-Seventh City (I’ve never read it), which is critiqued for being too sprawling.
Harbach says he can’t tell whether or not a novel has been MFA’ed or not, but I wonder if the ending is an indication. In genre novels, it feels like the whole purpose is to have a satisfactory ending, and in literary novels, I think it’s the opposite–but maybe it’s a concession for everything to come together well. Or maybe it’s laziness for it not to conclude in a great, mesmerizing and amazing way.
Because that is a skill–to develop and plant seemingly disparate parts and for it to intertwine in an amazing way.
All that to say, I’m not sure. Yes, my upcoming novel does have an ending, I’m not sure if it’s a good one. I am revisiting it, so we’ll see. Is that good enough for you?