Friday, May 28, 2010

Great Books With Crappy Endings. What is the Deal?

I've read a few books in the last sixth months that I loved...until. I'm going to talk about the endings of Poison Study, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, Skin Hunger, and Gracelings. I won't be getting into many specifics, just things you should be able to guess by about 50 pages in, but if you remember details better than I, you may want to read with one eye closed.

I'm starting to see a pattern, and I wonder if I'm all alone. Here's the scenario-
Guy and girl fall in love. They face overwhelming obstacles, death on every side, they risk their lives, their reputations, their futures so that they will have a chance to be together. Then they win, and realize that they can't be together because of such and such small problem.

Bull crap.

I've been in love. I still am. NOTHING would have kept Mr. Bryson and I apart. Not a stupid job, not some political intrigue, not the pursuit of some esoteric knowledge. I just don't buy it.

You want examples? Okay. Here goes-

Poison Study- an excellent book, one I might even read again. They fell in love, won their battles, they're so happy, now they can have a happy life together, then a political figure shakes her head no, and they say goodbye. I know that everything isn't going to be perfect for them, but at least let me think they will fight to stay together. There had be a darn good reason why they part ways after the whole book has led to their being together.

Graceling- I loved this book- a yong woman blessed with the Grace to kill, and she is good at it. She and another Graced warrior try to change the political landscape (lots of bad kings in Graceling). this author really pulled me in. She made me think that maybe I DO want a guy with gold rings in his ears and tattoos that only a wife is meant to see (they're on his arms, but they're to please his future wife, so he says. And I believe him.) It was a great book. Until the last page. There was no reason they couldn't be together. None. If authors want to pull junk like that, death has to be the only other option. Not, "Well, I want to start some schools to teach girls how to fight in the seven kingdoms. I guess I'll see you around." Bull-oney.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel- this one could almost get away with it because Jonathan Strange was distant and preoccupied during his whole marriage, but I was hoping that after he fought to free his wife from the fairy entrappment, that he might, you know, care about her. Ol' Jonathan gave her a peck on the cheek and disppeared into the mystical darkness, dreaming of books on magic. Stupid ending. Seriously, where is the happily ever after? I guess I need that. Maybe not everyone does.

Dragonfly- a YA novel about an arranged marriage, kidnappings, and love- had great resolution. I wish the princess had been a little more proactive and not been willing to let some political/religious figures ruin her life, but at least the guy knew that he wasn't willing to live without her! It was more satisfying to me, even though it wasn't quite as perfectly written.

Dear blog friends, I want you to know that I would never do that to you. I would give them their happy ending, then introduce conflict in the second book of the series. Seriously, this bothers me so much that I want to rewrite the last few pages of these books. Like Un-fanfic. Like, you got this wrong Ms. Author, even though you're brilliant and you got published and you're miles ahead of me, but you got it wrong.

What say you? Did I watch too many Disney movies growing up?


  1. LOL! So you don't like a good tragedy, huh? No, I take that back. In tragedies mostly the people DIE and that's a good reason not to be together (unless you're writing a ghost story). You're right, give a good reason.

    No, but on a personal level, thanks for writing about this. It firms up my decision to write an epilogue for my WiP, because the way I have it now, it's not quite as happy as it should be. :)

    Great post, Kelly!

  2. THANK YOU for writing this post. Because right now, my excellent beta gives me hell for doing thing the easy way, getting my MC out of spills too quickly and making plot turns that don't really deserve to be there. I have a happy ending, and MC had to fight every step of the way (physically and emotionally) to get there. And then I let her have it. I'm all for real, true happy ending.

    These easy twist endings just ruin it for me.
    Bravo for some honest reviews!

  3. Hey Amy- I can handle trajedy- but there are usually some clues that you're reading that type of book. I didn't have a problem with 'The Time Traveller's Wife', for instance. But don't split up the MC from the love interest in the last page and a half! And yes, I'm a bit annoyed here;)

    Hi Lydia- That's tough. We've got to listen to our beta readers, but still trust our own understanding of where the story needs to go. I generally believe that everything that can go wrong should go wrong to our protagonists. the stakes must be high, exagerrated from everyday life, esp if you're writing fantasy. Good luck finding your balance!

  4. Very good point, Kelly. I love me a good ol' bittersweet ending - but not for a bittersweet ending's sake. It should have some meaning relative to the rest of the plot.

    Could it be because happy endings are generally looked down upon by the writerly class? Like, if you want your book to blur the lines between commercial and literary fiction, then it CAN'T have a happy ending, because that's too commercial?

  5. Krista- I'm at a loss. These weren't 'literary' books- well, JS and Mr. Norrel is kind of in its own class. But the others were basic fantasy genre. I think they were just setting up for the sequel, not wanting to leave things totally resolved so that there'd be a pull to read the next one. I think that may have worked on me for 'Skin Hunger', a book with a very very abrupt ending that also left me feeling hung out to dry, but at least it was consistent with the story arc. And I checked out the next one at the library, so it's okay. But if the second book ends abruptly, I think I'll be done with that series too.

    I think there is a bit of looking down on the happy ending, like happy isn't realistic. I don't agree. The Disney version may not be realistic, but people can be happy.

    Thanks for leaving a comment, Krista!

  6. Thanks. Just crossed a couple of books off my list. I don't necessarily hate sad books, but they sure better have a good reason for not being together--death, fate of the whole world hangs in the balance, etc. And don't give me any of that "deus ex machina" on the last page. Didn't we learn not to do that in "I want to be a writer 101"? :)

  7. Hey Connie. I hesitated to write this post, because I really really enjoyed these books A LOT, and they weren't sad. Very fulfilling,actually, until the last page. Sigh. I've never written anything 'bad' about other people's books, and I don't mean to do that now. I just wish that they had left that conflict for the beginning of the next book. Thanks for stopping in!

  8. um. THANK YOU DEAR GOD. i could NOT possibly agree more with you.

    SHEESH, PEOPLE, why ruin a perfectly good love story?!



    maybe i'm just a sap.

  9. Haha Tahereh- welcome, fellow sap;)