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?