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Notes Toward a Dissertation on Books that End in Mid-sentence

Posted by on May 25, 2010

What can we learn from books that end in mid-sentence?  Perhaps that periods, question marks, and exclamation marks ought to get down off their high horse. 

            By books that end in mid-sentence we mean of course only those that deliberately end thus, excluding those abrupt endings due to authorial demise like “The Last Tycoon” or historical corruption like the “Satyricon” or because the author got caught in a time loop and is re-living the same day for all eternity like Italo Calvino. 

            A book that ends in mid-sentence defies the “squares.”  In certain cultures they have been worshipped as relics of the Godhead.  Legend has it a copy of Plato’s “Critias” was once used to prop up a wobbling table leg in Bertrand Russell’s kitchen (the Penguin paperback is now on display at the British Museum). 

            Some books end in mid-sentence because the narrative is circular.  For example, in “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce a man plans a surprise party for a friend, only to discover he is himself the friend he is throwing the party for, and also that he is lactose intolerant.  In Samuel Delany’s “Dhalgren,” a failed haberdasher is afflicted with alopecia, then travels back in time to murder his father before his own birth.  It’s way intense. 

            In “The Iron Heel” by Jack London the mid-sentence ending indicates the death of the protagonist, killed while attempting a stunt on a “Jackass”-style reality television program.  In “The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.” by George Steiner the sudden end represents language blasted into silence by unspeakable ontological horrors.  That sensation was later adapted for television as the popular series “Dancing With the Stars.” 

             Books that end in mid-sentence have made many contributions to society.  Here are just a few of the things they have given us, without which our lives would be immeasurably poorer: the cocktail umbrella, HP Sauce, Betamax, corneal pachymetry, the tube top, phrenology, and the phrase “trouble in paradise.”  Imagine how different the world would be without them! 

             Truly, books that end in mid-sentence have much to teac

Next Ish: “Dead Souls” by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, “Eaters of the Dead” by Michael Crichton, and “Tintin and Alph-Art” by Hergé.  Their shocking secrets will be revealed. . . or else!

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