As we near the conclusion of this series “Why The Short Story? ~ A Conversation Among Writers,” Vanessa Gebbie—during a complicated time in her personal life—generously and graciously considers the question of endings.
Vanessa: I will start my contribution on short story endings with an apology for holding up the end of this wonderful discussion—although there is a reason, and that is that I have been caught up in recent weeks in the throes of the ending of a life, and its aftermath. That of my lovely father. And I am not sure if we are blessed, as writers, with the propensity to find parallels in all things—but in this case, they are so clear that I hope you will bear with me.
My father’s death came at the end of a full life. At ninety-five, his body and his faculties having declined fairly sharply, to continue would have been distressing for him and all who loved him—and the end was peaceful, and right. Of course, he will be missed hugely—I don’t think you can have a parent, grandparent and great-grandparent like my father without feeling their departure keenly. But at the same time, as the days since he’s gone roll into weeks, and the weeks into more weeks, we are looking back with great pleasure, sharing memories of a remarkable man, glad that his legacy—his gentleness, bravery, his enquiring mind, sharp intelligence, practicality, doggedness in adversity and his dry humour—lives on in us.
Gerard, in responding to his own question about short story endings, talks about “a sense of completeness within the flow of things—the sense that a story is fully resolved and concluded while at the same time existing in a universe where things go on happening.” Isn’t that just perfectly right? I can’t put it better at all. Life goes on. That story is finished, but it echoes and echoes. Echoes well.
I’d like to share a perfect short story ending with you—and it is the ending of US writer Alice Elliott Dark’s “In The Gloaming,” a piece of work selected by John Updike for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. The same story became the subject of an HBO movie directed by Christopher Reeve, starring Glenn Close. The story focuses on conversations between a young man who has come home to die and his mother. The young man is gay. His father has never come to terms with this, and remains distant, awkward, as the mother and her son share moments of closeness, at the close of each day. The story, and his life, run out—until, after the funeral, there is the most poignant final scene between his parents.
I was going to share the gist of that short and perfect scene here. But no. On second thoughts—trust me—I can do you no greater favour than encourage you to go and find Alice Elliott Dark’s story, read, and bow. You will have been in the hands of a master, and you won’t forget it.
→ Vanessa Gebbie is the author of two collections of stories:Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning, and is contributing editor of Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story. Her debut novel, The Coward’s Tale, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in the UK and the USA. Thank you for taking the time to converse with us, Vanessa. Be well and happy in your memories of your father; our thoughts are with you. -PMc←