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Where Does the Story End?

Every book club is good at something. Whipping up themed dinners, for example. Or planning out meeting schedules a year in advance. Or spotting motifs and allegories throughout a novel.

My book club is advanced at arguing.

In our decade of existence, we’ve quarreled over the time, day, format, and frequency of meetings. We’ve squabbled about hardcover versus paperback and Kindle versus iPad. We’ve gone toe-to-toe over who would play the main character in the movie version and whether it was fair to choose a book in which a child dies. Yes, that happened.

We once had a particularly squawky and even tearful meeting that is still affectionately referred to as Book Club Fight Club.

We’re an opinionated bunch, and I love that about us. Who wants a book group that’s too timid to tell you what they really felt about a bildungsroman — or worse, who felt nothing at all?

What we argue about most is endings. The 12 of us can work ourselves into a good, literary lather over a tome’s final pages: an off-kilter epilogue, a dissatisfying denouement, an outrageous resolution that leaves us locking horns over whether the author is a genuine Joyce-ian genius, or in fact lacks the depth god gave a bookmark.

Which is why it’s hard to believe that our club’s own ending seems to be upon us — and that it arrived without a row but with a strange, awkward hush.

Last month was the first time in our 10-year history that our book club just sort of didn’t meet. It’s not that we actively decided to disband. Or agreed to skip a month and reconvene later. We just … collectively … didn’t plan a meeting. No one volunteered to host. No one suggested a book. And no one responded to my group email asking what our plan was for April.

Sure, it’s possible they all met and decided not to tell me because, okay, yes, Book Club Fight Club was mostly my fault. But I think something else is at play here.

I dearly love the ladies in our klatch, from the opera-loving grandma to the fishnet-sporting roller derby gal. Together we’ve weathered divorce and disease, toasted new homes and new babies, and wept over the loss of jobs and the death of parents. We’ve sat at each other’s tables and devoured one another’s food, from self-serve soup to white-linen cassoulet.

But a book club is like a marriage — even the best marriage. It’s wildly promising when it begins, and you hope it’ll tap into your best you. And then it does! It becomes both challenging and comforting, a respite where you can show up and get a hug no matter what you’re wearing or how sociable you’re feeling. But like a marriage, the familiarity and predictability — of conversation patterns, dessert flavors, and narrative preferences — becomes trying. It does.

When our gatherings have taken on a chore-like tinge, veering into “obligation” rather than “opportunity,” we’ve proposed shake-ups: Maybe no cooking. Maybe no host? Maybe no book! But such discussions have typically devolved into bickering (have I mentioned we’re bickerers?).

So now this. Our own dissatisfying denouement.

I mentioned it to a friend from the club the other day, and you won’t be shocked to learn that we disagree about how book clubs should end.

I like a definitive finale, I said. No ambiguity. No cliff-hangers. Where’d we all land, for Gatsby’s sake?

But my friend, who’s admittedly better read than I am, likes it when a storyline like ours comes to rest quietly and inconspicuously. It means that if we decide to gather again (gasp! a sequel?), we can gently nudge it back into motion and pick up where we left off.

If not, we can close the book and hold the characters close to us forever after.

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