What makes [Ending] first-rate is that Wolitzer captures the conditions of the spirit rather perfectly herself, with an amazing intensity and richness. And in the rash of new books on dying, fiction and nonfiction, Ending is a distinguished entry.
Sandy and Jay Kaufman are a young couple (30 and 32—with two boys under five) going through the agony, together, of Jay's death from bone cancer. There is that much obvious plot comparison with Love Story, but the similarity ends there…. [Eric] Segal's hero dealt with his wife's death only as a learning experience for himself, Sandy Kaufman is as deeply involved in her husband's feelings as in her own….
Even though the action centers around Jay's dying, the novel is really Sandy's. It records her efforts to deal in a continually alive way with her dying husband and the fact of his death. She deliberately chooses to live in the present with him, and there is nobility, rather than denial, in her refusal to think of what she'll do after he dies, until it happens….
Through unobtrusive flashbacks, the reader sees the quirky, happy, angry and frustrating moments in their relationship…. (p. 157)
But through it all, what keeps such a potentially tear-jerking novel from descending into bathos is the couple's pervasive sense of humor. Despite their grief, they both clearly enjoy life….
There are powerful moments, large and small, in this first novel. Large moments are underplayed…. She delivers the news that his disease is terminal when they are alone, in an untheatrical way. Jay is devastated by it, and the scene itself is certainly moving and dramatic, but the effect is not sentimental….
The heroine's strength of spirit and aliveness to the world keep her going, and at Jay's death, when she comes home and flings herself on their bed, we know that she has the resources, imagination and energy to get up and make her life whole again. She herself recognizes "the tough surviving membrane of her heart."
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay this novel is that it is hard to believe it's not the author's own life and experiences that she's recording. But there is nothing in the biographical data to support this feeling, so I can only attribute it to the power of her writing. (p. 158)
Margaret Ferrari, "Book Reviews: 'Ending'," in America (© America Press, 1974; all rights reserved), Vol. 131, No. 8, September 28, 1974, pp. 157-58.