Happily Ever After

November 15th, 2011

A friend this weekend was talking about a book she loved and she said enthusiastically, “It was SO sad.  I sobbed and sobbed!  It was great!”

And I said, “I don’t like sad books.”

And she said, “I LOVE sad books.”

And I said, “I only like happy endings.”

She just shook her head at me, and we fell silent.

It’s true.  Call me shallow and juvenile, but I won’t seek out a book that makes me feel sad.  That doesn’t mean that bad things can’t happen in the course of a book, just that I want the story to end happily for the characters I most care about.

I wasn’t always like this.  There was a time when I could read deeply depressing stuff.

Part of the problem is that I DID read deeply depressing stuff when I was younger, and I discovered, over time, that the rough parts stayed with me for way too long.  Like SOPHIE’S CHOICE.  I can never unread that or forget the central, indelible moment of horror and loss.

The other problem is that I became an adult.  My life is good.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  Even so . . . bad things happen. Some years are hard. So when I pick up a book to read, I want it to escape into it. I want to snuggle down into the pillows and get lost in the characters and when I finish it, I want to be smiling.  I want my burdens to feel lighter, not heavier.

Of course, there are books that are so fascinating and entrancing that they don’t have to have an overtly happy conclusion–just reading them delights me (like Jennifer Egan’s VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, for example, which is so entertaining and bounces around so beguilingly that even the sadder parts didn’t tear me apart).  But a book that’s telling a tragic tale from beginning to end, or one that people warn me is “rough going,” or one that’s set during a genocide or a war . . .  yeah, that’s going to be a hard sell for me.

But I know tons of readers who don’t need or even like the gloss of a happy ending, and I also know plenty of writers who don’t think that a happy ending is believable and have no interest in writing one.

How do you feel about it?