I’ve mentioned on my blog before that I’m generally a fan of happy endings. The Brady Bunch always ended happily, too—Mom and Dad had a talk with the wayward Brady child about whatever mess they’d gotten into. Maybe the kid had to mow the Astroturf lawn as restitution for their wrong. Then everyone was cracking jokes for the final segment before the credits rolled.
The books I like to read have happy endings, loose ends tied up, and normalcy restored. I think it’s a satisfying feeling.
But I have to wonder if the phenomenon of the happy ending is primarily a modern one and dictated by reader preference. As an English major, many of the books I read didn’t have happy endings. In fact, I want to say that most of the novels I read didn’t. There’s Moby Dick, The Awakening, House of Mirth, Lord of the Flies, King Lear, Metamorphosis, Animal Farm, etc.
I think that most people view reading as an escape. We want to take a little break from our lives and be transported somewhere else. Somewhere maybe a little happier.
I’m not opposed to reading the occasional unhappy ending in modern books. Oddly enough, the unhappy endings in classic literature doesn’t bother me as much—it may be because it takes place in another place and time and while I emphasize with the protagonist, I don’t identify quite as much or put myself in their shoes. I’m an outsider, looking in.
Maybe with modern literature it hits too close to home to be able to maintain a sense of separateness.
Are there books with sad endings that you enjoyed? Do you write unhappy endings?