In writing, a good ending hides a multitude of sins. This is particularly true in short stories, where a good ending can draw together a rambling beginning and a confused middle and make a story extraordinary.
Among the many strange things in this era of the internet and far-flung friendship is that both Dave Freer and I have as a favorite writer Giovanni Guareschi, particularly The Little World of Don Camillo.
Yes, the stories are very Catholic, and they’re also about political issues in Italy in the mid twentieth century. I always thought I liked it because the characters sketched are close enough to my native village in Portugal and to the fractious politics of the seventies. But Dave Freer says he could walk that village blindfolded, and he’s not from a Latin culture.
Anyway, if you want to study how to do short stories, you could do worse than reading and studying Don Camillo stories. They are very short. Guareschi was a newspaper man, and one is tempted to say he cut to the bone, only he really didn’t. He said exactly what needed to be said, even to giving local color and feel. But they are short — and yet they’re full short stories, and they excel at what writing SHOULD do, which is mess with your emotions.
One of the things that Guareschi is a master of is the ending. The ending that turns the story on its head, or makes you suddenly feel happy or sad, or sorry.
I was trying to find the story to quote from, but that specific volume is not on my shelf — which means one of the kids has it. It’s a Christmas story. If details the escalating political fights between the priest Don Camillo (Don was an honorific, like ‘sir’) and the communist mayor Peppone. But at the end of the story Peppone comes to the sacristy. He comes to argue something or fight over something, but Don Camillo is painting the little nativity figures. And he refuses to give Peppone his full attention till he’s done, so Peppone joins in, touching up the baby Jesus, and it seems to him the figure is alive in his hand, like a sparrow. And over this, the anger dissipates and bitter and fractious feelings the writer himself has been building up during the story. And then Don Camillo sets down the baby and says “this is Peppone’s son” and the Virgin “And this is Peppone’s wife” and then the ass “And this is Peppone.” And Peppone retaliates by setting down the ox “and this is Don Camillo” And you think “oh, fight?” and then Don Camillo says “That is fine, between animals, we’ll understand each other.”
The story ends with a sentence about Peppone walking out into the night, and feeling at peace.
And that turns the entire bitter, fractious build up of several stories, and you’re there with him, feeling peace and a little closer to eternity.
May that be your lot today.
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it. This rattler of words is going to cuddle her husband and her kids. She might at times be a bit of an ass — but between
animals writers we’ll always understand each other…
May your future be merry and bright. And may all your stories shine.