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Storybook endings

Last Thursday night, in the last home game of his 20-year career as the New York Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th inning. A storybook ending.

Now I’m not the resident Yankees fan here. That crown belongs to Miriam. In fact, I’m not even a Yankees fan at all. I’m a Mets fan—may God help me. But come on, how could you not love that moment? Jeter, a class act, the last vestige of the old New York Yankees, the embodiment of clutch, comes up with a big hit in the bottom of the ninth to win the game, his last game in pinstripes. You couldn’t write a better ending.

“Where fantasy becomes reality.” That’s what the announcer said after Jeter’s last ever walk-off hit. I must have watched that clip fifty times. And I got goose bumps every time. But I’m not entirely sure why.

Usually I hate storybook endings. For some reason, whenever I encounter a happy ending at the end of a book, I always feel cheated, taken for a fool. Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but I don’t think happily ever after ever really happens. Books that end that way aren’t realistic. Storybook endings just don’t happen in real life.

Except they do. It certainly did for Derek.

So why then do readers often criticize fairy tale endings? Does good literature always need to end in tragedy and despair? And if so, what does it say that a good book must leave you feeling hopeless?

I am curious to learn what our readers have to say about storybook endings. Love them? Hate them? Does it depend on a case-by-case basis, and if so, why do some storybook endings work and others don’t? Sound off in the comments!

4 Responses to Storybook endings

  1. Joelle says:

    I’m so glad you’ve asked as this has been on my mind all year. Why? Because I’m reading a lot more adult fiction than ever before (previously I mostly read YA, as I mostly write YA).

    I LOVE happy endings. Maybe because I’m a happy person. But I’m not a huge fan of wrapping everything up at the end neatly either. I like lose ends. I’d rather have hope for happiness than a nice and tidy happy ending. I want to imagine what comes next, not have it summarized.

    Which brings us to why this has been on my mind. What is it with adult novelists and what seems to me the fear of a happy ending? I just want to say to them, “If you want a happy ending, then write it and have the balls (so to speak) to own your words.” I find it so frustrating when they give the main character a pretty happy ending and then kill off the best friend in the last chapter or have the dad be diagnosed with cancer on the last page, apropos of nothing, just to what? Balance it out? Maybe. But honestly, I think people who write “seriously” are afraid of the happy ending in case people don’t think they’re serious enough. Which I think is just BS. When I teach kids, one of the very first things I tell them is, “Own your words. Never apologize for your writing.”

    The other ending that makes me crazy is the epilogue or last chapter that wraps up everything way into the future. I mean, if your story covered only three months, why do I need to know what happens for the next ten years neatly packaged in a last chapter? This doesn’t seem to happen much in YA (Harry Potter #7 being the biggest exception, which I also didn’t think was necessary), but in adult fiction books just seem to go on for that extra bit of summary and I’m really not sure why. I can think of five or six adult literature books that I’ve read this year that have gone on past their natural ending point and I always wish I’d somehow known to stop reading.

    Thanks for letting me vent here.

    • D.C. says:

      Great comments.

      I agree with the fear of (somehow) alienating readers by having a happy ending. As you say, you have to have the courage to plant your feet and say, “This is how it ends”.

      As for your comment about the epilogue, to me that just shows that neither the author nor his agent nor his editor has the courage or imagination to consider a sequel.

  2. D.C. says:

    To reply to the original post —

    IMHO, it ends how it ends, whether happily or not. As long as the result is plausible given the circumstances and personalities involved and flows logically from them…why not?

    What I hate is the quick wrap-up that makes no sense given what has gone before. (E.g., “The Horse Whisperer”)

  3. Karen says:

    I’m a happy ending fan too. I read to escape. If I want realism and depressing endings I can watch the evening news.

    That said, I also agree with D.C. The end has to be plausible, based on what has gone before.

    Manufactured unhappy endings seem more common than their manufactured
    ‘happy’ equivalent. They frustrate me so much, and a lot of the time they do come across as art for art’s sake, rather than being true to the story.

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