I recently finished reading The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, and rather than write a review of the novel, I thought this time I’d write a quick post on the importance of a strong ending. Obviously I can’t do this without giving away the ending, so spoiler alert!
First let me start off by saying I enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend The Privileges. Jonathan Dee is a fantastic writer with strong prose and the ability to write morally ambiguous characters with emotional depth. However, I felt the ending was disappointing.
The Privileges starts out strong with a wedding scene told in present point of view and dances between the characters like a film camera. We move from the bride waking up at her mother’s house and avoiding the step-sister she was forced to make a bridesmaid, to the groom waking up in the hotel and itching to call his bride, to the nervous best man practicing his speech in the shower, to the groom’s father sitting at the bar criticizing the bride’s family for planning an extravagant wedding, etc., etc. I was immediately invested in the characters and what would happen to them–would the best man blow his speech? Would the bridesmaid wreck the wedding somehow? Would the two families fight?
In fact, I felt that the entire novel was building toward a big disaster, and I kept turning the pages to find out what. Cynthia morphs from a blushing bride to a bored stay-at-home mom to an overindulgent mother who tries too hard to be her kids’ friend. In order to give Cynthia the life she wants, Adam starts insider trading, makes more money than the family knows how to spend, and as often happens, starts getting sloppy, leading me to believe that one day he will fall–only he never does.
Neither do his children, even though April starts doing drugs and gets into a nearly fatal accident, which her mother just shrugs off. On his search to discover a new outsider artist, Noah ends up in the apartment of a convicted criminal, and though we never learn what crime he committed, we assume it involved physical assault after he hits Noah on the head and locks him in the apartment. Noah escapes and on the drive home begins concocting a lie to tell his family and girlfriend about his whereabouts to save face, and that is how the novel ends.
When I closed the book, I was left with the impression of having just read a series of events–interesting and engaging events, no doubt–rather than a story. In a way, I felt that there was no point. I think one of the reasons writing endings can be so hard is that they have to be larger than life. Sure, in real life Adam might get away with breaking the law without any repercussions, but in a novel I want to know that his actions had an affect–on himself, on his family, and on others if he gets away with it.
The ending is the reader’s final impression. Authors can do everything else right, but if the ending is weak, that is unfortunately what the reader will remember. This is why endings are so tricky to write! It’s so important to tie up all those loose end subplots and tell the reader exactly what happened to the characters they’ve fallen in love with and invested time reading.