This article originally appeared as a post on the PWxyz blog, which is no longer online.
Way back before The Sopranos made people angry/confused for cutting to black out of nowhere, books were messing with the heads of readers by daring to not use a period as the last typeset keystroke on the very last page. Here are 12 books that have no need for the standard last punctuation mark. Please help add to this list in the comments section–the lack of books by female authors is because I could not find any, not one, in hours and hours of searching.
Spoilers begin now.
The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)
She held out her trembling hand to K. and had him sit down beside her, she spoke with great difficulty, it was difficult to understand her, but what she said
Why: Kafka died. There’s some debate about whether he would’ve even finished The Castle had he not died of tuberculosis–in a 1922 letter to his friend and executor Max Brod, he stated he was giving up on it. But Kafka also told Brod on multiple occasions that the ending would involve K. living and eventually dying in the village, culminating on K.’s death bed as he receives a notice from the castle that his “legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there.”
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)
Nothing will be successful until each one of us feels that, just as in the epoch when people took arms and rose up against the enemy, so he must rise up against falsity. As a Russian, as one bound to you by ties of blood, of one and the same blood, I now address you. I address those of you who have at least some notion of what nobility of mind is. I invite you to remember the duty each man faces in any place. I invite you to consider your duty more closely, and the obligation of your earthly service, because we all have only a dim idea of it now, and we hardly…
Why: It’s a big cliffhanger. Dead Souls was the first in a planned trilogy, and was meant to be a modern retelling of Inferno (while also containing Homeric aspects) as Chichikov travels around and encounters a series of strange townspeople and landowners. Gogol supposedly completed the trilogy’s second part (the corresponding Purgatorio volume, in which Chichikov undergoes his purification), but destroyed it right before dying. In her book Designing Dead Souls, Susanne Fusso argues that Gogol only would’ve continued with a Part Two and Part Three if the reading public embraced Part One, and that he intentionally broke off the narrative (something he’d done before) in Part One to see if they’d demand a Part Two.
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace (1987)
Mindy touches his leg. Light comes out of his leg, between her fingers.
“Don’t you worry about anything,” she says. “I know you.”
“You can trust me,” R.V. says, watching her hand. “I’m a man of my
Why: In an ending reminiscent of Frank Norris’s McTeague (handcuffs are involved in both), there’s a sense of futility, incomprehension, and a lack of satisfaction left at the end of The Broom of the System. Wallace supposedly reworked the ending but, in a case of life mirroring art, was ultimately unsatisfied with the result. Ultimately, with Broom‘s ending, Wallace seems to have attempted to do the opposite of providing an ending–unlike the book endings on this list that loop themselves, Broom‘s ending is the absence of an ending. It's a dissolution rather than a resolution.
A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Laurence Sterne (1768)
–But the Fille de Chambre hearing there were words between us, and fearing that hostilities would ensue in course, had crept silently out of her closet, and it being totally dark, had stolen so close to our beds, that she had got herself into the narrow passage which separated them, and had advanced so far up as to be in a line betwixt her mistress and me–
So that when I stretch’d out my hand, I caught hold of the Fille de Chambre’s–
End of Vol. II
Why: At the end of his rambling journey, Yorick finally ends up at a roadside inn. Because there is only one bedroom, he shares it with a lady and her chambermaid, under the condition that he not speak. Of course, he breaks this rule and the chambermaid heads toward him. It’s possible, grammatically, to read that Yorick stretches out his hand and catches hold of the chambermaid’s hand. But, given that this is Sterne, the dirtier option (and the placement of the word “end” in the sentence) is a lot more fun.
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
There is time, if you need the comfort, to touch the person next to you, or to reach between your own cold legs . . . or, if song must find you, here’s one They never taught anyone to sing, a hymn by William Slothrop, centuries for gotten and out of print, sung to a simple and pleasant air of the period. Follow the bouncing ball:
There is a Hand to turn the time,
Though thy Glass today be run,
Till the Light that hath brought the Towers low
Find the last poor Pret’rite one…
Till the Riders sleep by ev’ry road,
All through our crippled Zone.
With a face on ev’ry mountainside,
And a Soul in ev’ry stone…
Why: As will become apparent as a theme in these mid-sentence endings, they’re often meant to parallel their respective openings. In Gravity’s Rainbow the “screaming comes across the sky” that opens the novel, a V-2 rocket, is also the force that ends the novel. The novel both opens and closes in wartime Britain, the end taking place as the V-2 lands on a cinema, which Pynchon probably based on the V-2 rocket that hit Antwerp’s Rex Cinema in 1944, killing 567 people while they were watching The Plainsman, the highest death toll caused by a single rocket in WWII.
Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen (2008)
I took a deep breath and threw my shoulders back. “You boys want Watson’s gun that bad, you will have to take it.” And I swung the gun up in the face of D. D. House as if to fire.
finish it that what he said?
well, he sure is finished
eyes come eyes go
in the star shadow
how the world hurts hurts
this world is painted on a wild dark metal
Why: The above is not really a representation of the erasure-like formatting of the words left on the last page of Shadow Country, which chaotically represents the event that the previous 891 pages were building up to: the killing of E.J. Watson. The last part of Shadow Country was reworked by Matthiessen from his book Bone by Bone (if you compare the last page of Shadow Country with the last page of Bone by Bone, you will find slight differences here and there, including the very last fragment line, which in Bone by Bone is: “this world is painted on a wild fine metal”). The event of Watson’s killing is never a surprise–Shadow Country begins with it and then returns to it at the end; In his introduction to Shadow Country, Matthiessen states: “A powerful, charismatic man is shot to pieces by his neighbors–why? It is the why? that matters.” In that sense, the ending was never in doubt, though the method in which Matthiessen chooses to depict it is certainly surprising.
Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett (1951)
Lemuel is in charge, he raises his hatchet on which the blood will never dry, but not to hit anyone, he will not hit anyone, he will not hit anyone any more, he will not touch anyone any more, either with it or with it or with it or with or
or with it or with his hammer or with his stick or with his fist or in thought in dream I mean never he will never
or with his pencil or with his stick or
or light light I mean
never there he will never
Why: After being treated to the careful observations of invalid Malone for over 100 pages, the last few go completely off the rails, describing the day trip of a group of inmates that culminates in some hatchet murders. From there, the text, “story” (if you believe there ever was one to begin with), and Malone’s consciousness/existence vanish in a series of dwindling fragments, finally making good on his promise to “get on” with “the end of the programme.” The “end,” of course, comes in the form of the whirlwind thought-consciousness of The Unnamable.
The Long Division by Derek Nikitas (2009)
The bullet never reached the brain and they were all still alive, and he was a sinless, drifting fetus. He turned his eyes to the sun but he did not curse God. He raised his hands and reached and held everything inside of them. The tower with its hundred windows sailed along, parallel to the infinite points he crossed. And he wasn’t afraid because death would never reach its final–
Why: Nikitas’s stop-start novel, which moves and jumps between characters throughout, finishes the only way it could: as a violent last gasp, the final intersection of a series of events that includes a ripped-up earlobe and a cast of characters that steals and kills. It was never going to be a happy (or tidy) ending.
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
Everyone in the house is in bed but me. I am writing this in the luminescence of the television, and I am so sorry if this is now difficult to read, Sasha, but my hand is shaking so much, and it is not out of weakness that I will go to the bath when I am sure that you are asleep, and it is not because I cannot endure. Do you understand? I am complete with happiness, and it is what I must do, and I will do it. Do you understand me? I will walk without noise, and I will open the door in darkness, and I will
Why: In a letter that doubles as a suicide note, depending on your interpretation, Alex’s grandfather provides some measure of closure for the novel, telling his grandsons to move on to a life without violence. But there is also a lack of closure, simply by virtue of the promise the letter starts to make, but ultimately halts on as the grandfather’s life finally gives out before finishing.
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (1939)
We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the
Why: It’s all a big circle. Finnegans Wake is the most famous circular ending in lit history, and also, it seems, one of the first. Nabokov’s short story “The Circle” (which also features a circular ending) was published five years before Finnegans Wake, but it seems unlikely Joyce used the idea: by the mid-1930s he was basically blind and on the last legs of his life and probably wasn’t reading much Nabokov (and also had already been working on Finnegans Wake for about 12 years by the time “The Circle” was published). Side note: Nabokov later called Finnegans Wake “a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book,” though he did call Ulysses “the greatest masterpiece of 20th century prose.”
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (1975)
It would be better than her. Just in the like that, if you can’t remember any more if. I want to know but I can’t see are you up there. I don’t have a lot of strength now. The sky is stripped. I am too weak to write much. But I still hear them walking in the trees; not speaking. Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come to
Why: Like Finnegans Wake, Dhalgren loops itself, as the last lines directly above feed into the book’s opening: “to wound the autumnal city. So howled out for the world to give him a name. The in-dark answered with wind.” All types of signals indicate that the beginning is the end is the beginning as Dhalgren winds down. The last chapter of the book even features the line “I have come to to wound the autumnal city” a little before the last page, not to mention a nearly identical bridge confrontation scene as the one that happens in the book’s beginning, except at the end the person entering the city is a woman as opposed to the Kid, the one who is entering the city at the novel’s opening.
The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (1987)
I saw a townie girl hitchhiking on the edge of town. She looked at me as I passed by. I made it to the end of town, then turned around in the parking lot of the A&P and picked her up. She was a little fat, but still blond and pretty. She was leaning against a lightpost, smoking a cigarette, a backpack at her feet. She lowered her arm as I pulled the car over. She smiled, then got in. I asked her where she was going. She mentioned some town but seemed unsure. She started telling me her life story, which wasn’t very interesting, and when Rockpile came on singing “Heart” I had to turn it up, drowning out her voice, but still I turned to her, my eyes interested, a serious smile, nodding, my hand squeezing her knee, and she
Why: The book ends like it starts, in mid-sentence (the opening is: “and it’s a story that might bore you but you don’t have to listen, she told me, because she always knew it was going to be like that…”), the effect of dropping you into the debauched lives of the students at Camden College, which had started before you opened the book and will continue after you close it. In the book, Ellis chooses to have Sean Bateman not really listen to a girl’s story as bookends for the novel; in the movie, Lauren’s run-on opens and Sean riding on a motorcycle closes–the last line is: “All I could think about was”
I hope you enjoyed the roundup of mid-sentence ending books. I think the most important thing to keep in mind