Not all Stephen King endings

In which I make it about the destination, not the journey.

Stephen King has never been known to stick a landing. Those of us who have spent our lives devouring his work are generally willing to acknowledge this — and at this point, apparently King is, too. For Vulture, I wrote about the ending of It Chapter Two, and the way the movie slyly winks at the cliché of the “bad Stephen King ending,” including (MINOR SPOILER) a cameo from the author himself revealing that he’s in on the joke. I wouldn’t say that means King agrees that his endings are often lacking, but his appearance at least suggests that he’s aware of his notoriety on this front and willing to have some fun with it. (As I wrote in the piece, I still think he’s a little prickly, as evidenced by his NO ONE LIKES ANY ENDING defense of the indefensible Game of Thrones conclusion.)

But in reading a plethora of King novels and short stories for King of the Dark, the Barnes & Noble podcast I co-host, I’ve been reminded that there are plenty of King endings I really like. I was going to write more about It Chapter Two for today’s newsletter, but frankly I feel like I’ve written enough. My brief take on the movie is that it’s fine, a step down from its predecessor that tries too hard to recapture that magic. (You can also read my essay for them. on how the film turns It’s subtext into text as an attempt to reckon with King’s history of questionable queer representation.) So let’s keep it positive! I’ve compiled a list (in no particular order!) of a handful of my favorite King endings, with the caveat that there are still lots of books and stories that I haven’t read. I’ve tried to keep it light on spoilers, but I’m talking about endings, so — spoilers!

Pet Sematary: Easily one of the most chilling King endings, which makes sense because this is his scariest novel. It works so well because, as with many of the author’s stories, you can feel the plot careening toward its terrible conclusion long before it happens. Here, he wisely cuts the reader off abruptly, leaving you to use your imagination when it comes to exactly what happens to Louis. But like, you know it’s not going to be good.

The Dark Tower: Hi, haters! This is probably my most controversial pick, and I totally get why people struggle with this one. After seven novels, many of them quite lengthy, you want some closure to the story of Roland’s quest. As far as I’m concerned, however, the ending King offers is the closest thing he can really provide without wrapping things up too neatly. Plus, he warns you that you’re probably not gonna love it! Yes, it’s frustrating. It also gives you a glimmer of hope in the suggestion that things will work out better for Roland next time.

“The Jaunt” (Skeleton Crew): When I asked my Twitter followers to let me know which King story has haunted them the most over the years, “The Jaunt” was far and away the most popular pick. I don’t blame them! This is an odd story, especially for King, because it’s the rare case when the ending is the only reason it really works. There’s more exposition than is necessary, which makes things drag along, and then there’s that brutal gut-punch of an ending. Just typing “It’s longer than you think, Dad!” gives me chills.

11/22/63: I’ve gotten emotional many times while reading King — generally whenever Oy is in danger in the Dark Tower series — but he’s not exactly the author I turn to when I’m looking to cry. That’s why I was caught off-guard by this ending, which fully made me weep. It’s bittersweet, moving, and stunningly written. King’s love stories can be hit or miss, which made me all the more impressed by his ability to wrap this romance up so effectively. (Am I crying a little thinking about it? Who can say!)

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (Different Seasons): I’m including this one in part because it works for me even though the film adaptation has a more traditionally satisfying ending. This is a case where a somewhat open-ended conclusion is stronger. As in Pet Sematary, you’re not left wondering what’s going to happen next so much as filling in the blanks yourself, one of the great joys of a story that ends with a figurative ellipsis.

“That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French” (Everything’s Eventual). Here’s one that really got under my skin. I read Everything’s Eventual when it came out 17 years ago, and this is still a story I think about often, even though it’s one of the most slight in the collection. King packed so many of my personal anxieties into that conclusion: plane crashes, déjà vu, and the feeling that I am trapped in an endless loop as a form of eternal damnation. Thanks, I hate it.

Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures.