Predictable Unhappy Endings

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

I just finished reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I love dogs so this seemed a natural for me. And I did enjoy the dog parts of the story. I liked lots of parts of the story. But some of it had me wondering not just about the story, but about me. Now if you’re going to read this book, you’d better skip the rest of this post, so I won’t spoil it for you by giving away some of what happens. But as I was reading along, a major character in the story dies with no warning. I like the character, but I don’t shed the first tear. And we’re talking about somebody – me – who can tear up at the drop of a handkerchief. But then later in the book, Edgar, the main character, gets upset with his dog and won’t let her sleep beside him in his room the way the dog has ever since Edgar was born. Now just thinking about it, I’m wanting to tear up. I’m not sure if that says something about me or something about the way the writer got me more heavily invested in what happened to the dog than in what happened to Edgar’s father.
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And it gets worse. Of course all the way through I’m thinking that things may not turn out well. Boy oh boy, they don’t. I didn’t cry about that either. I think that was because I was so disgusted that I’d spent so much of my reading time cheering on this character for him to come to such a bad end. Critics all loved the book. It is well written. You really like Edgar and the dogs. Or at least I did. You like Henry, a character that played a bit part. You wonder about Edgar’s mother. How she could do some of the things she did. That is sort of explained toward the end of the book, but I kept thinking she really wouldn’t have done this or that before the later explanation.
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But why is it that critics always love the books that have sad endings? Why is that not as predictable in a literary book as they usually claim a happy ending is in any other book? I’m beginning to think that what the critics label a literary book would be more unpredictable if it did have a happy ending. I don’t expect everything to be sunshine and roses. If any of you have read any of my books, you know some of my characters run into trouble and some of them die. Life is that way. But come on. Don’t have me rushing to find out what happens and then it ALL be bad. Bad things do happen, but so do good things. The sun comes up in the morning and with the sun I want to have some hope shining through. People do sometimes marry the person they love. People do sometimes avoid getting run down by a train of despair. People do sometimes realize they are on the wrong track and do some backtracking to find the right track.
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I realize not all so called “literary” books have unhappy endings and I’ve read books where the ending wasn’t what you might call happy, but I was able to shut the book after reading the final sentences with a feeling of hope for the future even though everything didn’t come out exactly the way I might have wished for the characters. The best endings leave a reader thinking, “Yes, that is what happened.” With this book and some others I’ve read too, I want to rewrite the last chapters. Something else, something not so bad, could have just as easily happened. Might have even more probably happened.
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How about you? You ever feel that way about books you’ve read? Or that you’ve written?