Surely we’ve all experienced this at one time or another: we turn the final page of a book, put it down, take a deep breath, and say to ourselves “what the FUCK?!”. (Okay, maybe some of us censor the profanity, but the sentiment remains the same.) It can be a good “wtf?!”, a bad “wtf?!”, or a pure confused “wtf?!”, but whichever way it goes it will stick in your mind for days. Here are nine book endings that will make you say WTF?! (And, I can’t believe I actually have to say this, but this list contains spoilers – it is literally about WTF book endings, what the fuck did you think it was going to be?)
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult really takes us on a rollercoaster in My Sister’s Keeper. It starts out with a hum-dinger of a moral dilemma: a thirteen-year-old girl, who was conceived as a genetically matched donor for her sister, sues her parents for medical emancipation. She wants the right to refuse to donate a kidney – which means her terminally-ill sister will surely die. That’s all well and good, and we follow all the ups and downs, but once Anna is finally granted the right to control her body by the judge… she dies in a car crash? Like, immediately after the trial? On the way to the hospital to visit her sister, as if it wasn’t melodramatic enough already! But don’t worry, she’s ‘only’ brain dead, so she ends up donating the kidney anyway. Bring up the ending with anyone who’s read this book and you’ll be treated to a twenty-minute long explanation, culminating in WTF?! (And don’t even mention the movie…) Read my full review of My Sister’s Keeper here.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Well, in fairness, the first few pages of American Psycho will make you say WTF?! But if you can make it all the way through to the end, you’ll be WTF-ing even harder. It might seem like your standard Yuppie greed novel at first, but soon the narrator – investment banker and titular psycho Patrick Bateman – starts describing his violent impulses and how he acts upon them. His violence escalates, and he rapes and murders his way across New York, culminating in a voicemail to his lawyer where he confesses his many, many crimes. Only the next time he sees his lawyer, the guy just laughs? Figures it’s all a joke? Says Bateman is too big a coward to actually do any of that? WTF?! Readers are still arguing today over what that means. Read my full review of American Psycho here.
The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck
A contemporary reader will likely come to The Grapes Of Wrath expecting a somewhat uplifting ending. Joke’s on them! It starts with the Joad family, down on their luck, leaving their own farmhouse and migrate to California where they can (fingers crossed) get decent jobs fruit picking to keep the wolves from the door. Their journey across the Dust Bowl is plagued with misfortunes: deaths, overcrowded migrant camps, and family members absconding left and right. You’d think that Steinbeck would have their luck change at some point, point towards a happy ending at least, but NOPE! Things just get worse and worse, until Rosasharn (whose baby was stillborn) ends up breastfeeding a starving man and boy in an abandoned barn during a biblical flood. What – and I cannot emphasise this enough – the fuck? Read my full review of The Grapes Of Wrath here.
My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
My Year Of Rest And Relaxation has one of those sneaks-up-on-you book endings that will make you say WTF?! You know from the outset that the unnamed narrator’s year bombed out of her mind on sketchily-obtained sleeping pills is beginning in late 2000. In New York. That’s fine… but then the months go by, and her friend gets a job in the World Trade Center, and the clues accumulate. Soon, you’re faced with the reality that, yep, the narrator is about to wake up at the exact moment that the whole world gets one hell of a wake-up call. Does her year, with its dramatic end, change her at all? Does the loss of her friend make her rue the days she was rude and mean, and pledge to treat those in her life better? NOPE! Moshfegh really said “fuck redemption” with her whole chest, and left us all out here saying… wait, wtf?!
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
Le Sommet is a former abandoned asylum, recently remodelled as a minimalised five-star hotel for winter wilderness getaways. That’s where Detective Elin Warner finds herself celebrating her estranged brother’s engagement. But, of course, girls go missing, dead bodies show up, and Elin’s spidey senses tingle. After chasing a whole bunch of red herrings, she discovers that the hotel’s owner’s sister was the psycho killer, and the hotel owner’s sister helpfully gives a big exposition-y speech to explain why she did what she did, and how. That’s The Sanatorium done and dusted, right? You’d think so, except the Epilogue is told from the perspective of someone else – who? no one knows! – who was actually stalking Elin all along. WTF?! Read my full review of The Sanatorium here.
Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
Yep, Steinbeck really was the master of endings that will make you say WTF?! That’s why he’s on this list twice. Of Mice And Men should be a short, sweet novel about two men trying to make their way in the world, despite the odds being stacked against them. Instead, it’s a brutal interrogation of sacrifice, structural oppression, misfortune, and malady in under 30,000 words. Lennie – literally the only truly sympathetic character in the whole debacle, who lives with an intellectual disability – murders multiple animals, and a woman, all by accident. Then his bestie, George, shoots him in the back of the head while promising him that everything’s going to be okay. Like, seriously, Steinbeck needed therapy. Read my full review of Of Mice And Men here.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I acknowledge that Gone Girl might be kind of an obvious choice for book endings that will make you say WTF?! Plus, if you’re reading it for the first time today, you probably won’t be quite as shocked by the Big Twist Reveal(s). But put it into context, folks: back when it was released, back in 2012, this shit knocked everyone for six. You spend the first half of the book all but convinced that Nick is the stereotypical lying scumbag husband who bumped off his wife when their marriage got rocky… only to be hit with a brick when it turns out his wife is a true savage psychopath. Then there’s the ending, where she has sneakily held onto his sperm and used it to impregnate herself so he can never dob her in for her crimes? I mean… whaaaaaaaaat the fuck? Read my full review of Gone Girl here.
One Day by David Nicholls
I can’t be the only one who picked up One Day thinking it was your standard rom-com with a fun hook (that the story is told through a series of vignettes, the same day in every year for two decades of their lives). I mean, surely they go through ups and downs and then overcome obstacles to end up together, right? Nope! Much like My Sister’s Keeper earlier, there’s a sudden and shock death that rips the heroine from the hero’s clutches. After all of that, the struggles and the close-but-no-cigars, after we got all emotionally invested, Nicholls ends with a sad bloke climbing a mountain and remembering the first time he kissed his now-dead true love goodbye. That’s basically a hate crime. WTF?!
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Well, maybe Alias Grace isn’t one of those book endings that will make you say WTF?! as much as it is one of those book endings that will make you say “where the heck did THAT come from?”. Atwood fictionalises the story of the real life and crimes of Grace Marks. She and another servant in the same household, James McDermott, were tried and convicted of the 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper (slash secret lover) Nancy Montgomery. All of that it is for real, and while fascinating, fairly standard. Only, right towards the end, Atwood twists the story so that Grace Marks was the victim of some kind of possession? The evil spirit of a former friend took her over, and that’s how the murders happened. Um, wtf?! Then it’s back to reality (whoop!), Marks is pardoned, and she starts a new life in New York. Baffling! Read my full review of Alias Grace here.