When I first started writing, I thought that happily-ever-after endings were taboo, the hallmark of less “serious” scribes and, literally, the easiest way out. I cut my teeth on poetry, after all, the sort of dark, dismal stuff that was so popular during the late 20th century and which my mother enjoyed reading to us in the dimmest light possible, or while we were potty training. (So many stories there, so little time.)
Anyway, I grew up thinking anything of serious value (there’s the word again) must incorporate a hefty amount of depressing and/or demoralizing material. And I don’t think the world has changed all that much. Books, films, and art that garner the most attention and acclaim usually have an edge to them, and a large part of me thinks that’s the way they should be, but not because the point is to be edgy for the sake of being edgy, like ticking a box whose frame was sketched out by Hemingway and has been passed from hand to hand until hipsters got ahold of it and started coloring it in with artisanal pencils. Rather, I think an edge is a good sign because it suggests dimensionality. The right kind of edge, in other words, invites people to reconsider the shape of things, to wonder if the world they’ve constructed in their minds might have hidden dimensions.
Toward that end, I often think of happy endings as rebellious. It’s our responsibility, as writers, to explore the gamut of human emotions, instead of dutifully sticking to the sort of brooding, wry, tongue-in-cheek tone that usually signals we are in the presence of Literature. This sort of darker approach feels as if it were born, well, not in the Dark Ages — because people might have literally killed for light in the Dark Ages — but certainly in a time when most of what was being said – and heard – about “good” writing was being said and heard by white men whose emotionally constipated ancestors were too busy keeping stiff upper lips to crack a smile.
Indeed, the biggest problem I have with happily-ever-after endings is not really the “happily” part, though that word speaks volumes to the limitations we persist in having around positive emotions, but the “ever after” part. Just as we shouldn’t stick faithfully to the edge, we also shouldn’t blow sunshine up each other’s asses. A happy ending – or beginning, or middle – doesn’t have to be a tidy one. The point is to work with complexity, to do the work we so desperately need writers to do, which is to fully explore the gamut of human emotion, and to do that justice. The point, on other words, is not to stick to an emotional point, but to enjoy and embrace the miasma that represents the far more kaleidoscopic truth of our experiences.
Art: Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Woman
Cynthia C Burke says