Brand building through storytelling

The last sentence: 10 of the best

When I first became a reader of books with 200 pages and no pictures, I liked to flip ahead to the very last line to savour the secret of the ending. I knew this was not the approved way to read, which made it all the more seductive. I was supposed to be patient and let the author surprise me, but my notion of a surprise had nothing to do with how the story ended. It was all about the story’s destiny.

Although I couldn’t have expressed this at the time, a good closing sentence is the pinnacle toward which the story has been climbing (usually without the writer’s conscious awareness). It’s both inevitable and mysterious, because how the how the story reached this point is more enthralling as the place itself. I can look down from the height of the ending on trails the writer didn’t take and blazes I missed while daydreaming or pausing to check the stove. To refresh my memory of a treasured book, I often reread the last sentence and inhale in a few lines the distinctive aroma of the entire preceding drama.

I’ve been doing this a lot lately. Three months after our move, I’ve only now finished unpacking my books. They emerged from the boxes like old friends arriving for a housewarming. I turned to some favourite last lines and thought, “I’d know you anywhere.”

I was going to pick 10 terrific one-sentence finales for this roundup, but I’ve taken a couple of small liberties. Why not? If you want to be a purist, you can make your own list—and better yet, share it with me.

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (from The Lottery): “‘It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,'” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.”

“Silence” by Alice Munro (from Runaway): “She hopes as people who know better hope for undeserved blessings, spontaneous remissions, things of that sort.”

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

“My First Goose” by Isaac Babel (from The Complete Works of Isaac Babel,edited by Nathalie Babel): “I dreamed and saw women in my dreams, and only my heart, crimson with murder, screeched and bled.”

Our Kind by Kate Walbert: “This is how Viv would describe, if asked, the beginning of the end, but the conversation never gets around to her.”

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay: “How the earth could hold any more water they didn’t know.”

“The Dead” by James Joyce (from Dubliners) “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

“I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen (from Tell Me a Riddle): “Only help her to know-help make it so there is cause for her to know-that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron.”

The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter: “In the bedroom I take off my clothes and lie down under the sheet and the summer blanket, and she puts her hand on my back and says, ‘Where were you?’ but already I am drifting off to sleep and cannot formulate the words to name aloud those places where I have been.”

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West: “I was a human being and I liked my kind, so I went with my sister back into the concert-room. Or perhaps I was swept on by the strong flood of which I was a part.”

Click here to read my earlier post on favourite first sentences and here for “Holden Caulfield revisited,” a post that’s particularly close to my heart.

Posted by Rona

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