Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Case for the Happy Ending


This post contains spoilers for Allegiant by Veronica Roth and A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas. Consider yourself warned.

The first book club I ever belonged to was called "Oprah-type fiction". I loved that book club, and I loved the books that were selected. We read hard-hitting books that mainly fell into the genres of women's fiction or historical fiction. After awhile, one of my book club friends had had enough. She said, "Most of the books we read are about people's shitty lives, that just get shittier." And she wasn't really wrong. We read a lot of books with tragic endings or, at the very least, extremely awful moments.

At the time I didn't really think much of her comment. It was just fiction after all. It's not real. No reason to stress.

But now, 10 years later, I can totally see it. I can see what she means with these heavy endings and this unavoidable death. These stories that we end up carrying around with us even when we are not reading. 

This particular friend was one of the first of us to become a mother, so, as a mom now, I wonder if that was part of where she was coming from. I wonder if that's when there was a shift in my own reading life as well. 

Allegiant by Veronica Roth destroyed me. I was finishing the book well past midnight, I was crying, the next morning I had a headache, and I felt like I was in a fog. It was a book hangover in the most literal sense. I admit that I am emotional when it comes to books and movies. I get easily attached to characters. And I'm usually okay with it. But Allegiant is the first time I remember thinking "NO! This is NOT how this story ends." 

I read all three of the books from the Divergent trilogy together, so, thankfully, I wasn't one of the many readers who were waiting with bated breath for the final instalment of Tris and Four's story. But I was fully invested in this series. It kept me up late at night, and I would wake early in the morning to get in a few chapters before the day began.

When I began reading Allegiant, I couldn't help but think that the entire book was one upsetting event after the other. And it felt particularly like the author was upset with Four for some reason because his character is beaten down over and over and over again throughout the novel, with no redemption in the end. He has very little goodness in his life from the beginning, but he does love Tris. However, his divergence was taken away from him, he gets caught up with the wrong crowd and ends up kind of accidentally killing his friend, and then he loses Tris when she dies. To say the ending of that trilogy was a disappointment would be a massive understatement. 

Most of the time, I read for pleasure. It's the the thing I love most to do for fun and to relax. So, if an author is taking me through a novel, or three (or even more in some cases!) and rip me apart along the way, I am trusting them to put me back together again by the end.

There is plenty negativity and tragedy in the world. I amjust at a point where I can no longer invite it into my life as entertainment.

I know one of the main arguments is that happy endings are not real life, and that books that end perfectly with everything packaged up like a gift with a bow aren't realistic. 

But I say bring it on.

I am fully aware that the book I'm reading isn't real life. That's why I'm reading it.

When did quality literature become synonymous with sad endings? I don't believe it has to be this way. 

Don't get me wrong. I love a good cathartic, ugly cry as much as the next girl. The ones where your nose is running and the tears are dropping onto the page. That can be some good stuff right there.

But this is where trust comes in.

The relationship between an author, a reader, and a book is a delicate one. Especially if there is a series involved. (Just ask any George R. R. Martin fan. They've been waiting 6 years for the next Game of Thrones book. And there is supposed to be one more after that!)

This January I finally read A Court of Thorns and Roses as well as A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Just like Tris and Four, I was cheering Feyre and Rhys on hard.

I had many of my friends and co-workers reading these books. We fangirled about this series harder than I ever remember fangirling over a book. The final piece to that trilogy was due out in May and I was counting the weeks until my preorder copy would arrive. We couldn't stop talking about what had happened, what we thought was going to happen, and, especially whether we thought either Feyre or Rhys were going to die.

My friends and I could see how it fit the personalities of both Feyre and Rhys to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Neither of them would hesitate to die if they could save Velaris, the Night Court, and all of Prythian. It was terrifying to know this. But I just had to believe that Sarah J. Maas was not going to do that to her readers. I trusted that she wouldn't make us fall so passionately in love with Feyre and Rhys only to take one of them away in the end.

A Court of Wings and Ruin brought it all. There was redemption for Jurian and (some) for Tamlin. Rhys' battle speech, that sounded much more like a goodbye speech, had me weeping. The Suriel dies. The Bone Carver dies. Amren dies. And then Rhys dies. By that point I was simply gaping at the book in shock. All of my tears had run dry. But there were pages remaining, and I held onto that trust that things would somehow be right in the end.

And then the Courts come together to bring him back. On top of that, Rhys is able to pull Amren back as well. My blood pressure regulated, and that was the moment I fell in love with Sarah J. Maas for good. Now I look forward to reading the next two books of the Throne of Glass series even more (because, let's be real, the ending of Empire of Storms is torturous), and I will happily devour whatever she puts out next.

Like I said earlier, I am okay with authors tearing me apart along the journey the characters face, but I need to be put back together in the end. 

I've talked primarily about YA novels here, but this same feeling applies to the women's fiction and historical fiction I read in my book club. I used to read historical fiction nearly exclusively. I was a bit of a book snob that way. But now I find that genre so challenging. I know these stories are real, and it's not that I don't appreciate the gravity of WWII or the slave trade or other difficult periods of history. I know these pieces of of the global story need to be shared, and they do not have happy endings. It's not that I don't feel sympathy. It's almost that I feel too much.

One thing I've learned growing older is that our reading life evolves as well. Who we are as readers at 25 may not be who we are as readers at 35. I never thought this would be the case, but it has clearly been a shift in me. 


PS - After being shattered by Allegiant, I found this piece of fanfiction called Determinant. It is a complete, alternative third book to the Divergent series and is well worth the read. Now I just believe this to be the ending of the trilogy in my mind :)

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