And They Lived Happily Ever After: A Manifesto

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Romeo and Juliet. Allegiant. Marley & Me. The Fault in Our Stars. Quick, what do they all have in common? Yep, you guessed it. A main character dies. (For those of you who haven’t yet read these books, but planned to, my apologies.)

The works listed above aren’t recent releases, but I can recall several recent books and movies with the same problem. I’ve become leery of paying good money to read about someone’s death. In love stories, this dying trend seems ironic to me. Forgive my romantic leanings, but a love story should have one vital requirement: a happy ending. Remember the familiar ending to many romantic tales, “…and they lived happily ever after?” I’d like to know who replaced it with, “…and he died, leaving her alone and heart-broken.”

Even if the story doesn’t “require” a happy ending, many time it’s what the reader wants. I don’t understand why someone would choose a book with a depressing ending. With a drama or a thriller, grittier elements like poverty, drugs, terrorism and death can be expected. But with a love story? Where’s the joy in watching a couple fall in love, only to realize the two people so suited for each other will never be together? And I’m not so sure the adage about it being better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all really works. Ask someone who has lost.

My reason for reading a book is simple—escape. I want to laugh, to smile, and to walk away uplifted. Give me a good ending, one where justice is served, someone’s perspective is altered for the better, and the characters find their soulmate. There’s plenty of sadness and bad news infiltrating reality without creating more of it on the page.

I’ve had this aversion to sad endings for as long as I can remember. After hearing someone raving about Casablanca, I chose to see the old classic on television. Afterwards, I couldn’t believe I had spent valuable time just to hear Humphrey Bogart mutter, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and disappear into the fog. And against my better judgment, I watched Titanic, only to cry for a good thirty minutes afterward. Even now, I refuse to watch movies or read books with sad endings. Friends and family members shake their heads when they discover I read the last paragraph in a novel just to make sure I know what I’m getting. I knew my habit was incurable when I found myself checking the ending of my daughter’s board books. In my defense, when those ten ladybugs started to disappear one by one, I wanted to make sure they weren’t being eaten. Who knows how my daughter might have been traumatized?

But I refuse to be disenchanted by Bogie, Hollywood, or any NY Times bestseller. If I want sad endings, I’ll just watch the news.

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