Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Egan's Excruciating Ending

There are many who would argue that Jennifer Egan’s style is whimsical and thought provoking. Although I do think there is some merit to Egan’s artistic style and creative license, I think that the ultimate ending of her book is utterly disappointing and too open-ended. It is true that the story itself is non-linear in nature, which is completely fine to me. I have read a few other books that progress as a series of experiences from alternate perspectives that eventually culminate in an awe-inspiring, goosebump-effecting conclusion. This sort of story ties together all loose ends and brings all characters and events full circle, demonstrative of the idea of a “small world”.

However, Egan’s ending to her story seems to be missing a few pages, or even an entire chapter. All of Egan’s characters seem to be connected in some way throughout the story. This, unfortunately, does not mean that they all impact the “ending” of Egan’s collection of perspectives. The last chapter paints a picture of Alex, a man who is struggling to sort out the ethics of his corrupt desires for noble pursuits. Alex ends up working for Bennie, and together they set up a concert to showcase Scotty’s (Bennie’s old friend) new musical endeavors. Sasha is the only character up until now who has interacted with Alex, and her connection with his future is so weak that it could be arguably not significant at all. It is true that Bennie’s life becomes entangled with many protagonists of the previous 12 chapters of Egan’s book. However, the part that drives me crazy is that there seems to be no real purpose to the events taking place throughout the entire chronology of the stories.

The characters that interacted with one another impacted one another’s lives in ranging ways, from completely influential to almost no significance whatsoever. Some characters, such as Bennie and Kitty, seem to have no real important connection at all. They both new Dolly, Bennie even less directly than Kitty, but this entanglement of shared acquaintance had no grounds for directing either of their lives. The ending of this book, if one wishes to call it even that, feels like a sort of middle finger to me as a reader. Most of the main characters are living bleak lives, dead, or struggling to balance an occupation and a family simultaneously.

The ending would appear to be the moment when the audience at the concert receives Scotty’s music with immense praise and encouragement. This seems like an appropriate way to finish the book, as the eventual result of all of these characters’ personal choices led in some way to Scotty’s rise as an important figure in the music industry. However, Egan instead decides to take the reader to Sasha’s old apartment, where Bennie and Alex try to enter and possibly reconnect with their old friend. After finding themselves unable to gain access to her building, the two leave, and the story ends with the most anticlimactic denouement possible. Alex thinks he hears Sasha behind him, and he turns quickly to try and catch her. However, he finds it is just “another girl, young and new to the city, fiddling with her keys”(340).

This is the final sentence of the entire book, and it left me feeling empty. I want to know what happens to Alex, and Bennie, and the other main characters of these stories. Maybe I’m too wrapped up in conventionality, but what I truly wanted from this book was a finale that tied everything and everyone together, that created a moment in my mind where the unmistakable delight of realization took hold and left me completely satisfied. Perhaps Egan’s seemingly cliffhanger ending is just embodying the principles of post-modernism. She is challenging what the ending of a story truly has to be, and if this is the case, then she is a pioneer in a realm of writing that encourages the reader to accept life as a conclusion that is anything but conclusive.


  1. While you did create for yourself an antithesis in your final paragraph, I would like to add my two cents anyway. I find that the ending is not necessarily reflective of post-modernism, but of life. The physical, "real" world. Indeed, in the stories we are blasted with in this information era, there are events and conclusions, finales, something to make you remember it as the very best part. Indeed, the finale is where many shows seem to fail. It seems that they try for too much, and in the end leave you underwhelmed. However, In life as I see it, the memories are not with the endings, the good-byes, the final victory or defeat. The finale is death, and yet even then memory keeps you here. Even when memory fades, you have impacted existence in ways you never expected just by being here. As I see it, neither life nor death are conclusions at all, merely continuations of something without beginning. Nothing is something, something is nothing, and time is irrelevant.

  2. I agree I think that Egan left readers feeling incomplete at the end of her novel. If she had ended the book at Scotty's concert as you suggested it would of completed the book nicely. Nice article!