Another Word About Happy Endings

July 21, 2011

Happy endings in novels are codified for mainstream novels. Crime/thriller novels are not so restricted. Nor are literary novels.

Yet when a crime/thriller literary agent rejected my query for a psychological suspense novel saying, “I’m interested in more light-hearted novels,” he is implying that he wants a happy ending here too. What does he fear? Is the coinage of the day to appease the reader at the expense of being interesting?

Let him consider the film “The Usual Suspects.” The ending shows Kevin Spacey as the devil, loose, disappearing into the crowd for another’s day’s work. Same kind of ending in “Silence of the Lambs” with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal still alive and at work. Are these “light-hearted?”

But put aside these films with their metaphors for the devil. What about the realistic film “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” with Vivien Leigh! A fading actress goes to Rome. In her loneliness, she takes up with a younger man, Warren Beatty, knowing he’s a gigolo. In the wings, a still younger man is waiting his own turn. When her romance with Beatty ends, she beckons the younger man. So she goes downhill to the end. And that film is not even a crime/thriller.

Faulkner’s famous literary story, “A Rose for Emily,” ends with the community finally being admitted to the dead Emily’s house where they see beside her bed pillow the skeletal remains of the fiance who presumably abandoned her.

Finally there is Henry James, the writer’s writer, known as “The Master.” His literary writings never end with a satisfactory settlement for his main characters.

To paraphrase James in the Art of Fiction, The main thing is that it be interesting. That includes the ending.