Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yawpy Endings

In Katie’s wonderful post on Monday, she encouraged us to look for “yawp” in novels—but, more importantly, to have the courage to create yawp.

I’d like to drill down on that concept a bit. It seems to me that courageous and inventive writing has to both sustain yawp through the novel, but must also to pull together elements at the end for a final punch.

Sometimes a good novel whittles away all the rest of the plot to end with a satisfying distillation of themes in the book. I’ve used this quote before, but I love it, from Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.

Contrast that to the ending of The Great Gatsby. Instead of using a closeup as in Beloved, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s verbal camera pulls way back and looks at the history of the setting, zooms in on the main character of the book, and then ends with a still shot of a universal truth:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Both these novels are courageous and yawpy. What other novels can you offer which had a strong yawpy ending?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Whipped Peace Like A River off my shelf for this yawpy ending:

"Then I breathe deeply, and certainty enters into me like light, like a piece of science, and curious music seems to hum inside my fingers. Is there a single person on whom I can press belief? No sir. All I can do is say, Here's how it went. Here's what I saw. I've been there and am going back. Make of it what you will."

~ Wendy

Latayne C Scott said...

WONDERFUL!!!! ending, Wendy!

Nicole said...

Sometimes it's the culmination of events either boldly or subtly that muffle or shout the ending itself that bring the yawping. Rather than just the few sentences or paragraphs at the end, you know?
Like the spooned taste of the creation after the relentless stirring.

Unknown said...

I love it, Nicole.

Has anyone written a yawpy ending? Or if you're too modest, give us your candidate for a yawpy ending.

Kathleen Popa said...

Two of my all-time favorites:

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen:

And yet sometimes I am so sad. Even when I have friends over often for tea or canasta, there is a Great Silence here for weeks and weeks, and the Devil tells me the years since age seventeen have been a great abeyance and I have been like a troubled bride pining each night for a husband who is lost without a trace.

Children stare in the grocery as if they know ghostly stories about me, and I hear the hushed talk when I hobble by or lose the hold in my hands, but Christ reminds me, as he did in my greatest distress, that he loves me more, now that I am despised, than when I was so richly admired in the past.

And Christ still sends me roses. We try to be formed and held and kept by him, but instead he offers us freedom. And now when I try to know his will, his kindness floods me, his great love overwhelms me, and I hear him whisper,
Surprise me.

And The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak:

I wanted to tell the book tief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

None of those things, however, came out of my mouth.

All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know. I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.

I am haunted by humans.

And okay, I'll share my ending from The Feast of St. Bertie:

"Gamma," she reminds me. "Cannos."

"Yes. Let's blow them out."

We kneel on the floor. She blows out the first, and then the second, third and fourth. Finally, she fills her cheeks with a big puff of air, leans over, and blows out the last.

We crawl into bed, and lie side by side in the darkness. I kiss her forehead, hold her hand, and start down that path, where I am only me, and she is little Estelle, and the two of us are deeply loved.

Unknown said...

Katy, those were three fantastic examples. And my favorite it yours!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Hesitating to share this one because I don't want to offend. However I guess that's the point of a true yawp, isn't it - risking offence to say something real and raw and beautiful?

This ending is from a short story called "The Turning" by Tim Winton. Absolutely the best example I've read of a secular author writing about faith. The story is of a battered wife who is drawn to the faith of her neighbours. The "man upon the waves" in the snow dome is Jesus. The title of the story refers to the moment when an unbeliever "turns" to faith, which for this character comes at her bleakest moment:

"In the spill of light at the bedside she saw the little dome and her man upon the waves. She said his name, too, said it aloud with love enough to send a shudder through Max as he pushed her down. She knew she was safe from him now, not safe from tonight but gone from him altogether. He smelt of death already, of burning, of bile and acid. He was crying and she did not pity him. He was gone and it didn't matter when. Everything was new. In her dome it snowed birds as the van rocked, birds like stars. The moment Max speared into her and tore open her insides she was full of hot and certain feeling. She was free. She had already outlived him."

Unknown said...

Karen, wow. That was yawp. Incredible writing.

Anonymous said...

Karen, that's quite a passage from The Turning. I'm glad you shared it.

Bonnie Grove said...

Karen, that is a wonderful ending - a close up look at the moment of turning, where a woman knows she is free before her circumstances actually change.
Thank you for sharing.

Latayne C. Scott said...

Karen, it's two days since you posted that graf from The Turning. I haven't been able to get it out of my head. "She had already outlived him" is one of the most powerful sentences I have ever read.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I'm relieved that I didn't offend anyone and excited that you all "saw it" too. Latayne, I felt the same when I finished reading that story. I thought about it for days on end. The author took me by surprise - you would have to read more of his work to appreciate how gritty and secular he is. The last thing I expected of his writing was that through it, I would encounter the God I recognise and love.

With that caveat, if you haven't read Tim Winton before, I encourage you to search him out. "Dirt Music" is amazing - prose that reads as spare and muscular and beautiful as poetry. He's a writer's writer, for sure.