This essay by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in the Telegraph is really quite thoughtful about "silences" and endings in fiction. For instance:
. . .writing is always partial: it involves the choice of some words rather than others, and choice requires rejection. As Henry James observed, "Stopping, that's art": the writer must know what to shut out, when to shut up.
But even stopping need not be an imaginative curb, because alerting us to what is not being said can also remind us of how often life gives words the slip, whether through secrets, reticence or repression.
Fictional endings are the moments when speech topples over into silence, so they regularly provide concentrated images of the horror of death, from the corpse-strewn scenes that conclude Shakespeare's tragedies, to the newer worry over entropy that filters into a novel such as Forster's Howards End, which begins with Mrs Wilcox looking "tired" and ends with Mr Wilcox "Eternally tired".
But endings can also be more lively and enlivening than this. "Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending": George Eliot's "Finale" to Middlemarch points out that it is no easier to tie up all loose ends in a novel than it is to draw a sharp line between one life and another life.
The insights here about the use of silence in works of serious literature are especially useful. What's not said, of course, is often as important as what is--Beckett, for example, seems to me the writer who has most profoundly understood the literary possibilities of silence, as well as the advantages of saying too little rather than saying too much. Somehow, these seem to me to be the real choices available to serious writers--either refusing to say what readers can be led to hear nevertheless, or saying so much that readers similarly come to understand what words can "say" and what they can't. (In contemporary American fiction, Carver on the one hand, Elkin on the other.) Saying just the right amount seems to me the most boring approach one can take. And it is the role of literary criticism, one it's no longer much assuming, to help readers prepare themselves to note the silences and make sense of the noise.
But I can't quite accept Douglas-Fairhurst's descriptions of the role of endings. He speaks of them as "stopping," as the final point in the narrative line a novel or play has drawn. This line, he suggests, is extended further by the reader into "life." (The final ending, of course, being the Big Ending awaiting us all.) "Above all," he writes, "good endings take us to the point where we emerge from reading better prepared to meet the challenges of the world." Perhaps some, perhaps many, readers have had this experience in reading narrative literature, but surely this can't be the more immediate purpose of endings in literature. Most writers have no better idea of how "to meet the challenges of the world" than anyone else.
Writers do, however, presumably have a somewhat better idea of how to shape works of fiction into literary art. They know how the ending relates to the other parts of the novel or story. They ought to know how they want the reader to relate the way the story ends to what has come before. In other words, an ending is more like a completion, the final piece of what should be the artistic whole, the last element in the literary design that allows the reader--perhaps forces the reader--to take a figurative step back and perceive that whole as it has now been finally presented. In this respect, it is no more--also no less--important than any of the other parts of the whole.
Douglas-Fairhurst's notion of the function of endings in fiction only reinforces the too widely-held idea that fiction is all about, is only about, "the story." Stories are a dime a dozen. There probably is some inherent fascination with stories hard-wired into the human brain, but most people would rather get their stories from movies and television. Fiction writers aren't going to get anywhere by continuing to compete with these media. The best writers stopped competing long ago. If fiction is going to survive as a vital--although not necessarily "popular"--literary art, writers will have to turn their attention away from stories in the simplisitic sense Douglas-Fairhurst's otherwise very intelligent remarks nevertheless still invoke and instead concentrate on the more dynamic possibilities of fiction as a form aside from the requirements of narrative. At the very least, they need to think through unexamined assumptions about how stories work and what they accomplish. ("Dumbing down" complex ideas or dramatizing "issues" just won't do.) Great writers have never been simply great storytellers, although some have indeed been great ones; a story may keep you reading until the end, but if you don't go back and retrace the steps that got you there it may well prove to be an "imaginative curb."