If several friendly readers tell you that they were confused by your ending and had to "go back and reread" the story to try to understand what happened, you are, believe me, in Big Trouble. In real life, you won't find readers, agents or editors who will take the trouble to go back and reread. A story gets one reading, one chance to stand on its little legs and sing. If it's confusing on the first reading, it won't get a second one. They only true desire to reread comes from the pleasure and emotional power we've felt from the story on the first read, which makes us want to experience it again. Not puzzle over. Fiction is not a philosophic treatise, or an economics text, where you often need to go back and review the argument. It's an unfolding, impelling, compelling drama that should carry you to an ending that's both powerful and satisfying.Now, I'll cop to having returned to books that've thoroughly perplexed me on a first reading. Often those titles end up joining the ranks of my favorite stories. But honest evaluation forces me to admit that Kaplan's right: I came back to those novels and short stories not because of the confusion they spawned, but in spite of it. Something else drew me, some nucleus around which the mystifying details orbited, a competent core, solid and unmoving.
(Picture: CC 2010 by NASA Goddard Photo and Video; Hat Tip: F. Escobar)