How to end a story? And other fascinating thoughts

The “open-endedness” of the The Hearing Trumpet by British writer, Leonora Carrington, represents life. In the afterword to the newest edition, Polish Nobel laureate, Olga Tokarczuk, praises the “wild metaphysics” of the story as well as its open-endedness. Here Tokarczuk questions what we look for when we read a story, and then answers that question thus: “We are seeking a shared communal order, each of us a stitch in a piece of knitted fabric.” I understand this to mean that as readers we are knitting ourselves into the yarn, till the end and beyond.

The beginning of END

But where does the story end and our thoughts begin? Stories with open endings give me comfort reminding me of the unremitting nature of life. But before I discuss any such story, I’d like to focus on the word itself: End comes from a strong Germanic, masculine word, ende. By the time it transitions into Middle English the word we use today gets lost in the middle of so many others aend, aende, eende, heende, hende, nend, aend, eond, heynd, eend, end.ȝende,ȝend, ȝynde, and yende. End is reluctant to take its designated place—according to the Oxford Dictionary.

Then look at how the word changes in gender, strength, and spelling as it travels across Europe:

Etymology of End from the Oxford English Dictionary
Etymology of End from the Oxford English Dictionary

Despite all these differences in the word, when readers apply it to a story, they keep the meaning consistent with the original meaning of END—indicating the limit of the known universe. But is the end of the text really the conclusion of the story? For me, a good story continues long after the text ends.

"Universe" by Wonderlane is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Universe” by Wonderlane

The beginning of a story

The world of a story stays with me as I begin a new one. For each story, I seek a world that will make me think about the one in which I live. But like the word, End, my world is also inconstant: I inhabit many versions of reality depending on my intentions of the moment, the mood I am in, the location in which I find myself, the people with whom I interact. So as I enter the world that the writer creates, I bring with me a version of my world at that moment.

Take, for example, Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House. As I enter the home in the seaside town of Cennethisar, I am surrounded by the silence created by COVID. We see Recep in the opening scene serving a meal to his bad-tempered mistress, Fatima. Like Recep, I have spent the last year cooking for myself and my family. Haven’t we all! During shelter-in-place we have been seeking comfort food. For me that’s Eggplant! I want Recep’s recipe. I’m definitely on his team from the first page.

The opening of Silent House by Orhan Pamuk

Silent House/Sessiz ev by Orhan Pamuk

Recep is the housekeeper in this house of silence. He leads us into the week-long world in the lives of three siblings visiting their grandmother, Fatima. Each chapter is told from the perspective of five characters: Fatima, Recep, the eldest grandchild, and two friends. This week in the seaside town represents a microcosm of Turkey in 1980, with its history, the class differences, the generational disconnect.

Orhan Pamuk introduces Silent House

Pamuk’s story is very much about the people and the place. I am sure it is a well planned plot, but I travel through it as I do life, knowing that planning will only get you so far. After that, the world takes over. The story is like a summer ramble of a week when life-changing events take place between joy rides down the freeway, a swim at the beach, and a scuffle in front of a bookstore. By the end, we’re left feeling, what happened there? Was it what I expected? Was Pamuk building up to this? The ending has stayed longer with me than I had anticipated. Is it tied up neatly? Do I mind if it isn’t?

As the closing credits begin playing, I realize the story had ended—full discloser, I was listening to it, which I highly recommend.

How does the story end?

Should a story end with all the pieces wrapped nicely like a packet from Amazon, packed neatly in a large box with a smiley face? My Amazon deliveries do satisfy my need for immediate gratification, but they don’t necessarily make for a good story. The anticipation is exciting, but once a package arrives, the narrative ends. The real story begins in the torn box, the wrong color, the tight fit, the missing pieces. The story is in the trip to UPS to return the package and the frustrating emails for refunds.

That said, I choose to keep this post unwrapped.

Create Cultural Memories through Literature and Art

Leonora Carrington opened this post, so I owe it to you to end with her. But is it really an ending or is it the beginning of a new relationship with a writer and artist whose worlds you’d like to visit?

The opening paragraph of The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington
The opening of the Hearing Trumpet

3 Comments »

  1. That was very interesting, and so many ways of spelling “end”, all so similar. I never get to the end of stories that I am reading, the characters stay with me and I occasionally wonder what has become of them. It’s particularly difficult for me to start reading another book, because I go back to the characters that I “know” in my mind. Sometimes they stay with me for years.
    Joanna Trollope is so good with characters and the interaction between them that I enjoy reading about.
    Thank you, Liza

    • I love it when characters stay on with you. There’s a character that is still with me from a book I read a few months ago: Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk (Polish) I highly recommend it. I looked up Joanna Trollope and her statement, “It is a grave mistake to think there is more significance in great things than in little things” makes me want to get my hands on one of her books. Thank you.

Leave a Reply to Selma Tufail Cancel reply