Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Happy Ending

I broke off from reading the New York Times "100 Notable Books of 2010" (linked by a friend on Facebook; if I thought she read my blog, I'd give her a shout-out) to make this request:
  • Could the "Best of" lists specify which books have happy endings?

I can hear the bleatings of "literary" types -- who's to say what's a happy ending and what isn't?  Maybe a failed relationship *is* a happy ending, right?

Okay, sure.  I can see that in theory.  But as a reader, I really don't want to read a book, get invested in the characters, follow their lives for a few hundred pages, and end up "sadder but wiser."  That's not a happy reading experience for me.  It's rarely even a rewarding reading experience.  I've done enough "sadder but wiser" in my life.

I would read more general fiction, if I knew, not what the ending was going to be, but whether the ending would leave me upbeat :-) or downcast :-(

Not actually that hard to figure out, it seems to me.  And not particularly subjective.  We can disagree about whether we liked a specific book, whether we think it's worth reading, but I suspect most of us will know if we finished a book :-) or :-(

I, personally, finished Bel Canto by Ann Patchett feeling :-)

With the NYT list, though, who can tell?  Is the word "haunting" in a blurb enough of a clue?
TO THE END OF THE LAND. By David Grossman. Translated by Jessica Cohen. (Knopf, $26.95.) Two friends are deeply involved with the same woman in this somber, haunting novel of love and loyalty in time of conflict, set in Israel between 1967 and 2000. 
I suspect that one's going to be :-(

How about this one:
ONE DAY. By David Nicholls. (Vintage, paper, $14.95.) Nicholls’s nostalgic novel checks in year by year on the halting romance of two children of the ’80s, she an outspoken lefty, he an apolitical toff. 
I can't be sure -- but I'm guessing :-(

This one sounds fun:
ANGELOLOGY. By Danielle Trussoni. (Viking, $27.95.) With a smitten art historian at her side, the young nun at the center of this rousing first novel is drawn into an ancient struggle against the Nephilim, hybrid offspring of humans and heavenly beings. 
I suspect it would be a :-) although not perhaps a romantic happy ending, what with one of the protagonists being married already to Christ...

But then Angelology seems like it might be a thriller -- which is to say, a genre.  Thrillers, mystery, science fiction, and, yes, romance are all genres.  For some reason, they almost always deliver the :-)

I know they're not alone.  Some books in literary fiction do so as well, but a lot don't.  I wish I knew which did.  Those I might read.


  1. Hi Magdalen--
    Oh my, you have my feelings down pat! Too many books, too little time to read a book that makes me feel down when I am through. Now, I am not averse to angsty-goodness and a good weep or two, but I want a good payoff at the end. I, too, parse the blurbs and reviews looking for clues. And then I usually head over to the mystery or SF or Romance sections!

  2. This is why I am an inveterate end-peeker (though not with genre fiction, usually). Sometimes I can handle a "sadder but wiser" read, but it depends on how sad/wise I'm feeling at the moment. Otherwise, I think recommendations from people who know your tastes are the only way to go on this one.


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