“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
These are the final lines of the novel, presenting Brett and Jake’s final dialogue, spoken in a taxi at the end of Chapter XIX. Jake has endured an attack by Cohn and helped Brett in her seduction of Romero. Brett has pushed Romero away and now finds herself alone again. In this concluding passage, the lament over what could have been is truly poignant, and for many this represents the novel’s finest moment. Just as Brett voices, one last time, the dream that the two of them could have had a relationship, a policeman raises his baton and symbolically signals a halt. The car’s sudden deceleration presses Brett tantalizingly close to Jake, echoing a number of similar scenes earlier in the novel, but the barrier between them is quite clear now. Moreover, Jake’s slightly cynical and bitter reply shows that he has no illusions about their relationship. He seems to appreciate the fact that a relationship between himself and Brett, if such a thing had been possible, would have been unlikely to end differently than any of her other failed relationships. Yet Jake’s subtle doubts only increase the poignancy of the novel’s closing lines. Their relationship is revealed to have been merely a beautiful dream, a dream that is now slipping away forever.