Friday, August 18, 2006

In Defense of Happy Endings

So I'm reading that book with the pink and green belt on the cover, the one whose author had the female writing world up in arms last summer with her assertion that "Calling a book chick-lit is like calling another woman a slut." To put it mildly, Them's fightin' words.

Because of the scuffle, I never read the book - when I start out with disdain for the author, I usually don't get very far. But a few days ago I found an abandoned copy and decided to give it a try.

I was floored by the first few chapters - I walked around muttering to myself, "Well, if she's going to pick big fights, at least she's got the chops to back it up." No doubt about it, Curtis Sittenfeld can write. I pushed off lunch, then dinner, thoroughly engrossed in her heroine's freshman year; I reluctantly put the book down to get some sleep late that night.

But when I picked it up the next day, that pink and green belt started to choke me. I was more than a hundred pages into this journey, and nothing good had happened to our heroine. Nothing. And if the next hundred pages are any indication, not much will.

This morning I picked up the book again, not because I couldn't wait to see what comes next, but because I couldn't wait to get it over with. If one single happy thing happens to this character, I don't want to miss it. But I'm not very hopeful, and this book now feels like something I've been sentenced to - like literary community service.

The funny thing is, if this grim story were a memoir, I'd feel better somehow. At least I'd know she got a book deal out of all that misery. But the character I've spent the past 72 hours reading about is, ostensibly, fictitious. The author could have given her a ray or two of genuine sunshine in her otherwise dismal life, but she didn't.

As a reader, I want good things to happen. I want a happy ending, and I don't think it makes a book any more or less "important" if characters who start out without much hope end up somewhere better than we would have suspected in the beginning. It doesn't have to be Prada bags and Tiffany diamonds – that gets tedious after awhile. But I think intelligent women realize that in real life, nice things do sometimes happen to ordinary people. Occasionally, the future exceeds our expectations, and those are the moments I want to read about when I sink into the couch for a couple hours of escape.

I’m not finished with the book yet – I’m determined to get through it tonight, so I can start the weekend fresh with something a bit more optimistic. Like CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, perhaps.

So here’s to the happy ending! My current favorite books in the “happy but not sappy” category are over in the “Great Books” section of my web site (we're wrestling with some font issues so please excuse the mess while it's under construction!) Last week I read this and was blown away. This is on my to-be-read pile.

Anyone out there have suggestions for books I should add to the list?

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