This post, like so many others of mine, deals with writing, my new hobby and main enterprise these days. Some of you aren’t But, DON’T hit the delete button. Almost all of you are readers or watchers of movies or television. Thus, this post pertains to you, too.
As I was in the final stages of writing the initial draft of my first novel, Beginning Again at Zero (2016), my sister Karen warned me, “I won’t buy it or read it if it doesn’t have a happy ending.”
I certainly hope that Karen wasn’t disappointed with the ending of that novel. [Spoiler Alert!] While there are truly sad and unpleasant scenes in Beginning Again at Zero, the main character, the young Finnish immigrant Onni Syrjälä, finds marital happiness. The epilogue reveals that he and Helina have a little son named Toivo (“hope” in Finnish) who is very reminiscent of Onni when he was a little boy and is infused already at age six with a similar itch to explore faraway places. Here’s the final sentence of the last chapter: “They fell asleep immediately after [making love], the deep, restful soothing sleep of two immigrants finally rooted and at home in a new land.”
Well, Karen, doesn’t that sentence cause your heart to pulsate with hope and delight?
I surprised myself when I got to the last few chapters by giving the novel close to what’s referred to as the HEA: Happily Ever After. When I started the novel, I had no idea that it was going to end the way it did. In fact, I usually don’t care for movies or novels that have a big red happy bow wrapped around the ending as in American sitcoms.
That may be problematic for me in the future. Another Karen in my life, my editor-publisher Karen Hodges Miller, expressed disappointment when I told her about my tentative plans for a third novel with the working title, Love Out of Reach. She said she’s unlikely to like it because she knows that one of the two main characters, German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer, was executed by the Nazis in 1945, leaving a grieving fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer. Hence, the title Love Out of Reach.
So, my editor, and now you, too, reader, know in advance that it will not have an HEA ending. I do, however, intend to write what I hope will be a fulfilling and satisfying ending. I can’t alter history, not even in historical fiction. Thus, Dietrich’s and Maria’s love will remain forever out of reach. However, I hope to leave readers with an ending that inspires a sense of hope and faith in the essential goodness of life in spite of or in the midst of tragedy.
I can understand why my dear sister, editor and maybe you, too, reader, love happy endings in your movies or novels. When I suggested years ago to my wife Diane that we go see Schindler’s List together, she balked. “There’s already enough pain and suffering in life,” she said. “Why should I pay good money to sit and watch almost three hours of more of the same?”
That’s a shame, really. It’s certainly true that we see thousands of Jews carted off to their deaths at concentration camps. However, the movie depicts the gradual redemption of the rather greedy, opportunistic factory owner Oskar Schindler into an almost obsessive rescuer of his Jewish workers, even those who don’t work in his enamel works. Not an HEA ending, but I’d argue a fulfilling and inspiring one.
My favorite ending to a novel happens to be the ending of my all-time favorite novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. By the time we reach the last paragraphs of the book, the main character Jay Gatsby has been shot in his pool by the pathetic jealous garage mechanic George Wilson who assumes, understandably but mistakenly, that Gatsby had run over and killed his unfaithful wife, Myrtle The final events of the novel are unspeakably ironic and tragic.
As the morally ambiguous Gatsby’s neighbor, the narrator Nick Carraway is utterly disgusted by what he has experienced and witnessed in the vacuous people who surround Gatsby. Nick has had enough of wealthy Long Island society and manners and decides to return to his native Minnesota. “I felt I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.”
Yet, in the end, Nick closes the novel with the beautiful, elegiac and ultimately hopeful words that cap the otherwise messy, morally decrepit story with an unexpected sense of promise: “Gatsby believed in the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther…and one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
What kinds of endings to movies or novels do you like? Is there a particular film or book whose ending has been satisfying and fulfilling for you? Which one or ones? Let me know in the “Comments” space below.
My second novel also ends on a hopeful, inspiring note. Available at http://www.amazon.com or https//: jacksaarela.com.
Until the next post, keep reading and cherishing each unique day you are given.