Famous Last Words

One never hears about impressing publishers with a real zinger of a closing sentence.  I suppose the rationale is that if the publisher has read that far, you’ve got them.  But I imagine there is the odd publisher who is only skim reading (yes, I’ve heard this actually happens) and so may be won over by your closing words.  And aside from publishers, what you finish with can make the book.  Imagine the Great Gatsby without its closing paragraph?  I would argue that that paragraph makes a good book truly exceptional.  But, nonetheless, closing lines don’t tend to have the opening sentence’s mystique.  This, I think, is because they are inevitably out of context, while an opening line can stand on its own having had nothing come before it.  Take the closing line of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Yes,” I said, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”  Pretty meaningless on its own, pretty devastating in the book.  Still, there are some wonderful last lines that don’t need a preamble, for example Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (which also has a fantastic opening sentence): “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”  And I continue to have a soft spot for the last words in The Catcher in the Rye: “Don’t ever tell anybody anything.  If you do, you start missing everybody.”

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