Books that end in a burst of brilliance

January 3, 2016 at 3:40 pm (books)

Every once in a while, I’ll be about to finish a book when the author’s writing suddenly ascends to a level of eloquence and profundity not previously hinted at. I love it when this happens.

Here are three of my favorite examples:

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn’t have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep.

from The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

In A Guide To Classic Mystery and Detection, Michael E. Grost observes:

The best part of The Big Sleep is the ending. This apostrophe to death is magnificently written, and recalls such Elizabethan essays on the same subject as the finale of Sir Walter Raleigh’s The History of the World (1610). Chandler’s skill with words reached new heights here, a skill that carried over into his next novel, Farewell, My Lovely (1940).

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Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Some night when it was very dark, when men could do their deeds without the glow of stars, the modest monument might topple and split and need to be replaced. That was on the old man’s mind. Failing that, it might even be necessary to lift his Joan once more–one last time–raise her from the earth, from the lonely, barren, sunburned grave that her husband had chosen, and carry her to a cool and green place, perhaps under the benevolent shade of a great oak at Chatsworth Farm, just around the bend from Beloved Belinda Walk. In a place like that, Ash could ease his heavy body down beside her. And there, with Joan at last able to sleep at the side of the only man who really loved her–and proved it–only then would their story finally, mercifully, be done.

from Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson

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Raymond Chandler and 'Taki'

Raymond Chandler and ‘Taki’

 

f. scott fitzgerald in the late 1920s.

F. Scott Fitzgerald in the late 1920s.

 

Thomas "Tommy" Thompson

Thomas “Tommy” Thompson

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