Thu04242014

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Books with unhappy endings

I am of the opinion that many books should be sold with multiple ending choices. If you like a happy ending, you could choose option 1. If you are weary of happily-ever-after, there’s a special, very dark ending for you with option 2. (Therapy might serve you better, but who am I to say?)

One book in particular springs to mind when I think of unsatisfying endings: “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” (Ecco, 2009) by David Wroblewski. I loved this book – until the ending, when I wanted to throw it (or, more accurately, the author) through a plate-glass window. It was like a cruel joke the scribe played on innocent readers who had signed up for his magical tale, only to be slapped with the most outrageous, unsatisfying culmination of violent events imaginable. I felt blindsided. I’m a glass-half-full person, and my water glass was bone dry. I was not happy.

I can appreciate difficult life lessons: appropriate consequences for bad behavior and the occasional death of a very old person. Call me Mary Sunshine, but I really hate it when, at the end of the day, really bad things happen to good people. (I know there’s a book about that, too.) I’m not all goodness and light, though. I like to be skillfully led to the brink of disaster, teetering on the edge of unthinkable consequences – and then guided gently back from the ledge to a just and endearing summation. In short, I’m a Jane Austen fan. (Shocking, I know.)

Sometimes bad endings make us grateful for our previously unappreciated circumstances, and sometimes they just make us more miserable. But whether you’re a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty sort of person, there really ought to be a great story with a great ending written just for you. And what a coup for the publishing world: They could sell twice as many books because they could then be all things to all people. Pick your option. Cha-ching!

I realize that every book cannot offer a surprising and wholly satisfying ending – like the movie “The Sixth Sense.” (Wasn’t that fun?) But what I would like is a choice. If I’m in a sad state of mind and want to wallow in it, give me that sad/violent/dark ending. Bring it on, because, as we all know, misery loves company.

On the other hand, if I am feeling naively optimistic and would like to remain so for the foreseeable future, I would be grateful for the option to read a great story with an optional happy ending so that I can live in denial for as long as it pleases me. I am indeed an occasional armchair traveler to that place called denial. (It ain’t just a river in Egypt, as they say.) I’m not sure of the zip code or driving directions, but I’m just saying … I hear it’s lovely this time of year.

Sharon Lennox-Infante, contributing editor for Book Buzz, is a Los Altos resident.

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