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Next Line, Please

Wanted: The Best Last Line for a Book Not (or Not Yet) Written [by DL]

This week's "Next Line, Please" contest -- sponsored by The American Scholar -- is for the best last line or last sentence of a book that doesn't exist.

Elizabeth Peyton's Jake at MOMA, 1995Here is quizmaster David Lehman's explanatory head note:

We love last lines. The endings of favorite novels enter the mind and lodge there. Scott Fitzgerald’s majestic conclusion of The Great Gatsby is a favorite: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Hemingway concludes The Sun Also Rises with a bitterly ironic line of dialogue enlivened by an unusual choice of adjective: “‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’” The terseness at the end of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is no less memorable: “For there she was.”

For their full impact, the great endings depend on the narratives that precede them. But a surprising number will be seen to have a meaning and a charm even when removed from their context. This is true of several of the lines I’ve quoted, and others spring to mind. When Dostoevsky brings Crime and Punishment to its finish, he leaves the door open for subsequent developments. He dangles the possibility of his hero’s redemption, then says matter-of-factly: “That might be the subject of a new story—our present story is ended.” Herman Melville airs a similar sentiment but with an effect that is both eerie and menacing at the close of The Confidence Man: “Something further may follow from this Masquerade.”

The last line of Sholom Aleichem’s story “A Yom Kippur Scandal”—“Gone forever”—concludes its narrative beautifully while making this reader believe it could perform the same function admirably for a half dozen others.

Your task for next week is to write the last sentence of a nonexistent story—either a story that we can imagine or one that we would yearn to read strictly on the basis of your sentence. The winning entry may imply a specific narrative—or it may be so suggestive that readers will be inspired to supply the writing that culminates in the sentence.

It doesn’t have to be long—just unforgettable.

Deadline: Midnight, Sunday, November 30.

And I didn't even mention the Borges story that waits until the last sentence to solve the mystery it poses.

To submit your best last sentence please follow this link and hea straight to the comments section.

Oh, and what does Elizabeth Peyton's painting of Jake (1995) have to do with the contest? Nothing, but you didn't know that until you reached this, the last line of the post. -- DL

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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