The “Happy Ever After” has an important place in literature, to be sure, but it isn’t the only way a story can end. I find it ironic that fairy tales have seemingly cornered the market on the happy ever after. Remember Pretty Woman?
Vivian: I just wanna know who it works out for. You give me one example of somebody that we know that it happened for. (i.e. the happy ever after)
Kit: Name someone? You want me to name someone?
Vivian: Yeah, you know a person that it’s worked for.
Kit: You want me to, like, give you a name, or something?
Vivian: Yeah, I’d like a name.
Kit: Oh, God, the pressure of a name… Cinde-fucking-rella!
And when Richard Gere wants Julia Roberts to settle for less, she tells him, “I want the fairy tale.”
Of course the irony is that many of Grimm’s original fairy tales were very dark and included themes of matricide, patricide, infanticide (all kinds of cides!) cannibalism, decapitation and a big, whopping dose of incest. But fairy tales have been Disneyified since then and all the princesses get their princes–without having to go through a lot of the darker tribulations of their original predecessors.
I’m not averse to “unhappy” endings, or even ambiguous ones. My most popular freebie, Taken, doesn’t have a traditional happy ever after, and romance readers *hate* that book because of it. No one dies, mind you. There’s no murder or rape. It just so happens, at the end, the main character doesn’t know whether or not the couple she’s been involved with ever stayed together. I could turn all those frowns upside down if I simply changed the last paragraph, giving the reader the assurance that yes, the couple made it. They were one of the lucky ones. They got their happy ever after.
Of course, that isn’t the way life works. And the naysayers cry, “But this is fiction, not real life!” True enough. But the ending of “Taken” is apropos–it’s far more interesting to me that our girl is still thinking about the couple in question and wondering about them, some time later. It says a great deal about her psyche and how that one liaison affected her. Should I have given that up in order to placate the reader?
Maybe. I know lots of authors who do. There are many publishing houses, big and small, that refuse to take “dark” romances because they’re… well, too dark. If an author doesn’t give everyone from the main couple down to the pair of hamsters sharing a cage in the story a great big fat happy ending, they assume no one will read it.
I think that’s ridiculous. I’ve done happy endings, even in fairy tale form (Modern Wicked Fairy Tales) and I enjoy them. But sometimes a story requires a not-so-happy ending. Think of The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example. (Hopefully that book is old enough I’m not giving anything away here!) I cried my eyes out reading that book, but I was still somehow satisfied when I finished. That’s a far greater trick for an author to pull off than simply pairing everyone up and saying, “Yay! It all worked out!” One of Excessica’s anthologies, “Heartache,” explored the darker side of relationship and romance, and as you might guess, it’s not one of our bestsellers. But it is poignant and at times, a breathtaking collection of stories. One of the best we’ve done, I think, and it saddens me to think the cult of “Happy Ever After” has relegated books like that to the bottom shelf.
So what about you? Do you have a preference between “happy ever after” and not-so-much?
Erotic Fiction You Won’t Forget