There are many books, certainly specific genres, seemingly dedicated to the happily ever after. I would go so far and be so bold as to say that is the main reason people read romance. After all, it’s wonderful to read a book and, no matter what kind of idiocy that occurs, the people we grow to care about wind up together at the end. The best authors of the genre will make you question whether or not that HEA will actually be attained while still allowing for that little belief in the back of our minds that everything will be “okay”. Admittedly when I solely read romance I took the HEA’s for granted and oft times even found myself viewing them with derision. That is, of course, solely because I am not into everything being all daisies, moonbeams and sparkly vampires. Errr, fairy dust. Well, you get my point.
When I kept reading “oh, these two ladies got pregnant at the same time and, after much trauma, they give birth together” kind of endings I got annoyed. I took a hiatus from reading romance genre fiction if nothing else because the gloss wore away. How can the lightness and beauty of life matter without the existence of genuine struggle, I found myself asking. And my answer to that was to delve into the realm of reading literary fiction. The unknown ending to the story that kept pulling me through “what next” was literally a “what” not a “when” or a “how”. Now, after reading several pieces of modern literary fiction, I’m cranky. Really, really cranky.
Let me explain. Some people think tragedy is more profound than the HEA and, in many ways, they might be on to something. But, as is the case with all such inclusive/exclusionary statements, it doesn’t always work. Just because there is tragedy does not mean it was profound, just as a HEA doesn’t necessarily indicate a superficially good conclusion.
Recently I read (and I’m not telling you what book as that would be the worst kind of spoiler) a book that was so promising. It was rich with thought, intellectual banter, literary observations and wonderful characters. Then. It happened. Not just “it” but IT. The writer built up a premise and, just when you’re seeing the transformation of the character- BAM! she gets hit with a dry cleaning truck. What did I learn from that in the context of the story? I learned that the author seemed to only think true change can occur only moments before death. Is that profound? Not really- not in my book anyway. Besides- if we only ever truly begin to live 24 hours before our demise then what encouragement is there to live? Surely the idea of death being right around the corner might act as a slight deterrent upon full actualization- no? Now the caveat to that was the other character had the opportunity to learn from the death and do something wonderful with her life and the author gave us a glimpse of just that. Unfortunately, it was of little meaning to me because of the reason the now dead, but recently enlightened, character never really lived was because she felt she surely would die afterward. TAH DAH! The universe hates you! *grumble
This was only one of the books written pretty recently in which a main character is killed off. Out of five full length works of fiction written in the last ten years I read, ALL of them killed off a main character. One of those books it was good, worked with the story and was quite moving in how it was handled. Another of the books did it beautifully, gut wrenching and in the most powerful way I could conceive of. The first in the stream of such books did so in such a way I was downright furious. It wasn’t enough to kill off ONE main character but the author felt compelled to kill off both heroes and leave us left with the foul taste of the villains on our tongues trying to seek forgiveness for their actions, direct or indirect, that resulted in the deaths of the lovers. The other two, one of the ones I already discussed (see dry cleaning van), just incensed me.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind things not being all sorts of happy- after all, life seldom is. But we do have moments, glimpses of such beauty in love and nature that it would do a grave disservice to humanity to paint it with no redeeming feature except in the epiphany + happy = death. I get the profound nature of these things, to illustrate to everyone that even a few moments of living somehow makes everything worthwhile- if for no other reason because all that came before led you to that brilliant moment- but does it really? Would it not be better to demonstrate to readers that there is tragedy, loss, pain, sorrow, and still there is brilliance after? That there is something in us that compels us to process all these things and to still find something to live for? That life isn’t just the brilliance to be squashed out but rather the overcoming of all those difficult events? That to keep that brilliance alive and safe within us, unleashing it into our world, despite those difficulties, means the triumph and truth of our existence becomes more real? More meaningful?
I find it very unfortunate that so many authors seem to think death in it of itself is meaningful but seem to hold the life itself in so little reverence. The most brilliant book out of the five I mentioned above used death as a means of showing us life. Not as anything other than. The death wasn’t the lesson, but the life whom death left alone was. And that is beauty. That is poignancy. That is profound.
Everything should mean something. And nothing should ever mean more than life. Writers, readers, let us revere that. Life.
I’m always open to suggestions so, please, if you have any works of modern literature (any setting) when someone doesn’t have to die at the end leaving one in a depressive stupor- please share. I seriously would love to read them!