The finality of the last day of school always causes me to be retrospective and wistful. There are final exams, then graduation, then people saying goodbye for the last time. The school year is like a book that you want to hurry up and finish, but then when you get to the last line, you linger over it for a moment and wish it could go on just a little bit longer.
All of this has got me thinking about the last lines of some of my most beloved novels. Below are the endings to five of my favorite books. These are how the books end, so, if you haven't read them yet, then, um, spoiler alert.
1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
I always emphasize this last line to my students. It's on their test. This one sentence sums up the chore of growing older, when you are moving forward and backward at the same time, yet seem to be getting nowhere. My eleventh-graders are young to understand it, though, but why blame them for that? I wish I was, too.
2. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
"'Meet Mrs. Bundren,' he says."
Not all books end with profound ruminations on the human condition; some of them have punchlines. Not many books have funnier last lines than this (See also: Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint.)
3. Sabbath's Theatre, by Philip Roth
The biggest and baddest of all of Philip Roth's book, with an opening sentence that was just as memorable, Sabbath's Theatre took me four months to finish. The last line, in which Sabbath realizes why he can't bring himself to commit suicide, just devastated me. One of these days I'm going to re-read this one...but not yet.
4. Rabbit at Rest, by John Updike
By the time you get to the end of Rabbit at Rest, you have spent 1568 pages and forty years with Harry Angstrom. It's time for him to go. You knew it had to come to this. But the night I finished the Rabbit books (I read all four of them back-to-back-to-back-to-back), I had a dream that there were four more out there that I hadn't read.
5. The Fixer, by Bernard Malamud
Advice for bloggers everywhere.