The Unsatisfying Ending

In the past week I’ve read three books with wholly unsatisfying ending. Each one left me hugely irritated and by the third–I’m just plain pissed off.

These three books were romances. Now one of the reasons I was reading them was for the happily ever after. I wanted something I knew would end in a light way. Two of them did. (I’ll get to the third in a minute). Of those two, the endings were really wrongly written. At least for me. Incredibly unsatisfying. One might say, aggravating. Why? Let me explain.

One of the books was a historical novel. It had an intriguing set up, interesting characters, and an interesting plot. But the ending? Here we come to the crescendo of the conflict and . . . . the point of view changes. All of a sudden the narrative is told from the perspective of another character altogether. We get nothing of the emotional crescendo of the resolution for the main characters. Of their angst and struggles and that moment when things turn out all right. It’s SUCH a letdown. Such. It reminded me of the Booth and Brennan romance in Bones where their moment of getting together happens off screen. We’d been waiting years for that moment of realization where they give in to their feelings, and nope, didn’t get it. I gave up watching the show at that point.

The second book’s crap ending was too fast. The hero says nasty things to the heroine in a fight, and then when he comes to apologize, he barely apologizes (and not very well–kinda of the ‘I’m sorry but you deserved it’ sort of apology). I was so irritated. At that point, the heroine felt like a doormat. Not that I wanted him to grovel endlessly, but a more seriously apology and a little groveling would have made me understand her forgiveness better. Or at all. Especially given that she essentially gives up her whole life for him and I’m not even sure he’s all that good a guy at that point.

Between those two endings, I was feeling like I had sand in my shorts. I’d invested time and emotional energy into the stories and it so felt like it wasn’t even worth it. Gah. But that wasn’t nearly as bad as the third book.

This one was really really good. Lovely characters, amazing setup, incredible building of the plot . . . It was all going so well. I so trusted the author to end it well. I was fairly wriggling in my chair to find out how she’d pull it together. And then—

She didn’t.

What did she do? She cliffhangered the ending into a part two book.

Yes, an unexpected part 2 and the second book is not available. I had no idea. None. I was so pissed I don’t know if I’ll even pick up the second book. I feel like I’m paying double for a single story. I feel that I’ve been scammed in some fashion. Now, had I known it was a duology in the beginning, I might still have read it. But part of the issue is that there’s no resolution whatsoever to the book. The romance is the main plot. The other plots are tied to it. So it’s really like watching a movie halfway through and just stopping abruptly and saying, wait ‘til the next one. It even ended mid-scene.

I don’t really have a point to this. I just want to bitch. I am so tempted to read the endings of books first just to be sure that they will pan out. One of the authors who pulled this ending was one that is usually tried and true for me. I just want to bang my head.

So what about you? What makes for an unsatisfying ending for you?

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The Unsatisfying Ending — 17 Comments

  1. I ALWAYS read the ending before I spend much time with a book, including mysteries. (And I find out how movies end too before I see them.) I know many people consider this anathema, but if all I get out of a book is to be surprised at the end, I’ve got better things to do with my time. And life’s too short to read a whole book and be unsatisfied with the ending (doesn’t have to be happily ever after, but it has to be consistent with the rest of the novel). I read a book (not a love story) many years ago by a favorite historical novelist that ends with the protagonist being abruptly killed; but this was consistent with the world and era he lived in and the kind of life he lived, so the ending was satisfactory to me. Many years later, she re-released the book and changed the ending, so the protag just more or less rides off into the sunset. She added an author’s note saying something to the effect that she’d been young and foolish when she first wrote the book. And I’m sure I’d have been fine with the revised ending if that’s the way it had been originally published, but I was annoyed at the change, perhaps because the original ending was so fitting and made the book memorable. So it’s not always about happy endings.

  2. Bear in mind that, with the third book, that might have been a publisher thing. I’m less familiar with it in romance, but in SF/Fantasy there is a long, inglorious history of a long book being split in half–somethings almost mid-sentence–to become two books.

    It sucks for the reader. It makes you untrusting, too, which sucks for all the other writers that reader may approach. Pfui.

    • I think it’s self pubbed. I think I’d have taken it a lot better if there had been some (any) warning. Not that I haven’t done a cliff-hanger in my series, but I try to complete the story arc of that novel, which this one didn’t get near doing.

  3. I definitely want my emotional resolution. I could buy third character POV on seeing hero and heroine come together if third person gives even more insight, or has an equal emotional punch. Otherwise, yeah, not so much.

    It is so much tougher when a story is a couple or several books long. I am a happier reader if there is some kind of resolution, then I can be okay with dangling threads. But coming cold on a cliffhanger with no sniff of resolution anywhere–and no warning in blurb or title (“book one of The Long-Ass Epic Series”) can make me feel cheated, and I’m less likely to look for the second book.

  4. It’s not about happy endings, it’s about dealing with issues raised in the story: are they resolved, or otherwise dealt with in a plausible fashion, even if it’s just in a buying time sort of way?

    That leads to the situation where the reader sees one set of issues and the author had another in mind and (charitable interpretation) didn’t get enough distance from the story ever to see that these others were there too and needed better handling. I’m still frosted about one my daughter & I both read where lots of story issues weren’t resolved (the powers trying to end the world, the lonely power that wanted constant company and lost what it had), but the mirror situation to the opening was the ending: one character waiting for another to reappear. And it clearly was planned. It’s just … IT DIDN’T WORK.

  5. Its my belief that one sign of a well written mystery – or any book- is that it grips you in suspense even though you read the ending first. (I am also long term member of that guild.)

  6. In romances particularly the Epilogue is over-used. I am happy with a ride off into the sunset: the “3 months later she’s pregnant” HEA ending is really unsatisfying to me.

    • I like the epilogues that actually tie up something interesting. Like a year after the bomb was survived, how are people doing sort of thing. But yeah, the pregnancy HEA is blah and it happens so frequently.

      • I think the best “Epilogue” ever for me so far was to BET ME by Jennifer Crusie. I can almost hear the youngest sister giving us all this information in a movie voice-over swiftly at the end over some crazed screen clips, and then the twist of her own situation as the capper. That one really worked for me.

        Also how a book handles something historically can disappoint new readers later–I had to tweak a scene in a re-release of a book because my reader told me “you have this awesome undertone vibe that needs to be resolved for people who don’t have this and get it through the book.” I had not thought of that small thing being crucial as on-screen, but she was adamant, and I respect her insight. I did it historically (how a young teen daughter might greet and be greeted by her frontier father in my alt fantasy historical world after months absent) and that worked for both of us.

        Little things can loom large if the emotional arch is not left at a satisfied place.

  7. I agree about the overuse of epilogue in romance. Make the ending lovely and I’ll imagine their happily ever after myself. I read an epilogue once where it summarized all the major events of the characters’ lives, and ended with their deaths. Literally their gravestones. It was a complete downer after a very sweet ending.

  8. A lot of authors are writing novellas, charging $3 on Amazon, and then it takes 3 of them to make a novel. I hate it when I pay for part of a story, and I tend to boycott those authors. There’s one exception, by a favorite author, but I knew from page one that I was going to buy all three parts for $9.

    I guess the unsatisfying ending I’m seeing a lot of these days are by people who don’t plot. The character meanders through a lot of events, the book hits 300 pages, and quits, often with a ton of loose plot lines.

    I’m becoming adept at spotting authors that don’t carry tension from scene to scene, or can’t build tension along a plot line.

    • Do you feel the same way about novel trilogies? It seems to me that it’s similar. I assume each novella hangs together on its own. Or is it that they’re not really novellas, just a novel divided into parts?

      I happen to love novellas — it’s a nice length for a story. And I’m now waiting impatiently for the third segment of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series of novellas. But I don’t think she wrote the first one with an intention of writing more of the story. It was after she did the first one that she found where it could go.