Books without resolution seem to drive many readers up the wall. What happens in the end? is not a question many desire to ask after they have read the concluding sentence. Yet there is such realism in open endings that I have come to appreciate. Open endings don’t mean to me that there is no resolution. They mean that some aspects are left open to interpretation for readers, and I think that that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Take the endings of the following three books. Although, if you have not read them but intend to, beware of spoilers. You can still follow my argument without those examples.
Mo and Annie marry, so that Mo can continue to live in the USA while the rest of his family returns to Jordan. After a couple of months they decide they can’t do this anymore. They love each other as best friends do but they are not in love. They take Sam’s (the law student) advice and so Mo self-deports, such that their marriage would be annulled.
The book ends with them at the airport. Mo is leaving for Jordan. All Annie is certain of is that she and Mo love each other but she doesn’t know if they’ll see each other again soon or never again. She is also thankful for their years of friendship, while trying to grapple with the fact that she won’t have Mo around anymore to lean on but that she will need to become more independent.
Carly is petrified of getting close to guys because she had been raped before. For most of the books, we see how she deals with her estrangement from her family, and her trying to come to terms with her fear of guys and sex. She dropped out of university to surf and works as a cook at a café to support herself.
Then Ryan comes along and she slowly opens up to him, allowing him to see her most vulnerable self. She even admits to him that she was a rape victim, even though she had not told anyone before. The book ends with her accepting that what happened in the past doesn’t need to have a hold on her future. She trusts Ryan and so has overcome her fear. What happens after that, if she goes back to uni or mends her family ties is left unsaid.
Now, I absolutely hate cliffhangers. For the most part I feel they exist for the sake of it, just readers will pick up the next book. Yet with Burn for Burn, issues pertaining to this particular book were addressed, while still leaving questions that will clearly be answered in the next book.
Kat, Lillia and Mary each seek revenge on someone. They each manage to get their revenge too. In the book it is very clear what they plan, what they do, what the outcomes are and how they feel about it. Lillia feels back for Alex when she realizes that he did not even wrong her. Kat has the satisfaction of seeing Rennie not be crowned homecoming queen. Mary’s target however is left hospitalised, so she is terrified that he will end up dead or paralysed. She also blames herself for ruining their homecoming dance. That is where the book ends.
Sure, Reeve’s state is technically a cliffhanger but I see it more as an open ending. The main parts have been addressed, while the book ends at an appropriate spot to ‘hit pause’ as readers await the next book.
See, open endings leave some aspects unresolved, thus pointing to a future that lies ahead of a character. This actually helps to make characters come even more alive because that way they are no longer bound to the pages of the book. These characters have possibilities that aren’t open to them if everything already falls neatly into place by the end of the book.
What needs to be resolved are the main issues that a book deals with. If a character is tormented by a particular fear, then readers need to know by the end of the book how the character overcomes that fear. Side notes about their life are of secondary importance. Do they lose their best friend in the process? If said ex-best friend isn’t a central character, then the reasons the friendship failed along the way do not have to be explained. I mean, have you lost a friend before? You didn’t necessarily get to hear their side of the story, why you two couldn’t work things out, did you? Similarly, I do not believe that books need to answer every last question.
Open endings therefore mirror lives. Books present segments of characters’ lives, where those segments make for the best stories. Anything that happens afterwards does not technically belong to that story.
How do you feel about open endings? Do you prefer complete resolutions that address every last detail? Do cliffhangers bother you?