Monday, May 31, 2010

And They Didn't Live Happily Ever AFter?

According to a sports column I recently read, every three seconds a child is born. That comes out to roughly 28,800 children every single day! By that math, there have been over 800,000 children born into this world that have no idea what a blog by Jeff Savage is. Yikes!!!

Okay, so that’s my way of saying I haven’t blocked in four weeks. I would apologize, but the truth is that I suddenly find myself with potentially four series of books, a new job, and I am traveling nearly every week. I love to blog, but if it comes down to getting my day’s writing in or doing a blog, writing will almost always win out. Huh, guess that makes me a writer. But I am remiss, and so yeah, here I am. I promise I will try to do better.

Speaking of traveling, last week I was in New York for business. Thursday night my boss and I realized that if we hurried we could go to the city (we were working and staying on Long Island) in time to catch a show. I quickly discovered three things. Long Island traffic is a bear. There are NO public toilets in all of Manhattan. (Not totally true but it felt like it after a dozen or so Diet Cokes and the aforementioned traffic.) And NYC rainstorms give you absolutely no warning before soaking you to the bone.

The good news was that we found a cheap parking garage only a few blocks from Times Square, I remembered where the half-price day of the show ticket place was, and there were plenty of shows available. The other good news was that my boss’s wife is a huge theater buff. Her dad wrote the script for Saturday’s Warrior and founded Tuacahn. So we called her and got several recommendations for shows. We’d both seen all the old classics, so we picked a play called Next to Normal. The lead won a Tony last year and the play won a Pulitzer. This was good because I don’t like silly shows. I can watch Les Mis a hundred times over, but force me to watch A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, or even worse, Pirates of Penzance, and I will literally chew my fingers to bloody stumps.

So we saw the play. And it was amazing. The acting was superb. The singing was the kind that makes you go right out and buy the sound track. There was quite a bit of profanity, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring that if the story is gripping. And the story was gripping. But here’s the thing. It is the story of a family dealing with the death of a child, and a mother who is seriously mentally unstable. From midway through the first half you realize this play can’t possibly end happily. The child won’t be brought back. The mother may get somewhat better, but they won’t all live happily ever after.

(There is some mild profanity in this video, but it is TV level)

Of course this is not new. Lots of books and stories don’t end happily. Think Romeo and Juliet. Think Somewhere in Time. Do any Jane Austen books end happily? I’m sure they must, but from what I’ve seen on TV they all seem to be about dour women and effeminate men. Not a happy combination from my point of view. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard Mr. Darcy is supposed to be hot but really, come on, his name is Darcy. Tell me that kid didn’t play with Barbies when he was little. Okay, I’ve gotten off track.

My point was that there are lots of stories that don’t end happily. I wrote Into the Fire, a modern day retelling of the story of Job in the Old Testament. You know that isn’t going to be a total upper. When I walked out of the play, my boss asked if I liked it. I told him that I’m not sure you can really say you “liked” a play like that. I was moved by it. I was enthralled by it. I bought the soundtrack and can’t stop humming “Superboy and the Invisible Girl.” But did I like it? I’m not sure.

So how about you? How do you feel about stories that do not end with “and they lived happily ever after?” Can you love a story that leaves you sad at the end?


Peggy said...

What's with teasing us with the news of four book series and a new job, and then not giving any of the details?! Grr.

I don't need a perfect ending to a story, but I don't love stories that end sad. I'm fine if there are elements that end sad, but the hopefulness of other elements has to outweigh them.

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Ok! Four series. Wow! Congrats. I'm with Peggy, I want details.

Bathrooms in Manhattan are definitely dicey.

I don't require a happy ending. It really depends on the book. Some books, you just can't have a happy ending.

I guess I go for natural.

DJ Rose said...

I can't say that I love a story that doesn't end happy. But then again, I love a story that haunts me--one that stays with me and I think about when I'm doing dishes. I agree with Peggy that there needs to be hope. If there is no hope then I pretty much feel like it was a waste of time.

Suey said...

What? What did you say about Jane Austen and her boys? Blasphemy!!

I wrote a blog post awhile back about happy vs. sad endings. I think we concluded that they are both good, and sometimes you're in the mood for one, and sometimes the other. Many of my favorite all time books are tragic endings. But sometimes, a good happy ending is totally what is needed.

Erin G. said...

Ooo! How exciting for you! Congratulations on all the fun stuff happening for you! :)

For me I think it's more resolution than a "happy ending". I don't need a happy resolution to the story, but I do need resolution. But I think it depends on the story. If the author can end it on a happy note without taking anything away from the resolution or previous plot points, then I think they should. I don't like people who make their stories depressing just to be depressing, you know?

But then again, that's only my opinion. I think audiences on the other hand generally want a happy ending with all the loose ends tied up, even though that's not how life really is sometimes.

P.S. I really like that song "Superboy and the Invisible Girl." :D

T.J. said...

I think I'm with you on this one Jeff. I can't say whether or not I like a play/movie/book that ends sad. I was a huge Lost fan. My wife loved the finale and I was left with "Did I really like it though?" I respected it. But I don't know if I liked it.

For those who don't pay attention, unless I'm mistaken, Jeff's four series are: Chandra, FarWorld, Demon Spawn, and the Book of Mormon/Fantasy/something-or-other.

Do I stalk Jeff? No, I have one of the best/worst memories in the world (and I explained it once on my blog) and I pay attention to random trivial facts like these.

Sarah M Eden said...

I prefer happy endings. I don't require them.

Wow. I should really think about having that put on my headstone or memoirs or something. That sums me up pretty well, actually.

Dave Cebrowski said...

Good question about story endings.

I too have watched movies, or plays, or have read books where I was left... drained, for lack of a better word. While the writing, the showing, or the acting may have been excellent and the story compelling, if I feel drained or anxious at the end, I don't like it. Good or bad ending.

I was recently reminded that I agreed long ago to follow this admonishment: "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." If a story's ending, no matter how good the writing is, or the acting, or how emotionally powerful it might be; if it leaves me feeling less than ideal, empty, discouraged. etc... is it "virtuous, lovely or"... "praiseworthy"? And should I seek after it?

Elizabeth said...

I think there is a happy ending in Next to Normal in the sense that everyone is working on figuring it out. Before that they were all running away. This is evident in the last scene. The song is called "Light" and the entire stage is lit up. So it is not a happy ending in the sense that everything is tied up but you're left with a sense that they will get there.

DroolyDays said...

Here is my thought. The book Lonesome Dove taught me a lot about non happy endings. And yes some of the character's do die. It is the wild west. And I love how Larry McMurtry writes. He made me appreciate a lot about authors. The author has created this world and he is in charge of who stays and who goes. Larry McMurtry does an excellent job in creating the characters. He also had some beautiful death scenes as well. I do love happy endings, but life has a lot of unhappy endings. Like everyone else says. Hope can also happen with an unhappy ending. But then again hope is a happy ending, even if everyone dies.

Blue said...

But his name is Fitzwilliam--Darcy is his last name! (I love my Jane.)

I love books that captivate me, suck me into a new place, where it doesn't take me 100 pages to figure out how the world works and what the "rules" are, or who everybody is. I hate when you're cruising along thinking you're in this world, and that there's going to be a "normal" explanation for what's been happening, when suddenly there's a paranormal, sci-fi twist and you're clearly NOT in the world as we know it. That bugs me. I love a good romance. Strong characters you care about. Interesting twists that I didn't see coming.

I love so many different styles of writing it's hard to list them all.

I do have a strong preference for not starting a series that isn't finished...and regret reading Waterkeep back when I got it. It's been torturing me ever since that I have to wait. I mean, what if you did a Stieg Larsson and left me hanging for EVER?!! (but don't do a Stieg Larsson)

And that's all for now.