I Blame Jet Lag; Plus, a Rant on Happy Endings

A gold standard.

I failed at posting every day this month; on Monday, I flew home from my weekend in Los Angeles with my sister and her beautiful family. Even accounting for the time difference, it took me twelve hours to get home, and I had a migraine for most of those hours. I went to sleep without even thinking about the blog. I then slept for lots of Tuesday and almost all of Wednesday, and only now do I finally feel like myself again. I don’t even know how long I slept last night. So, for those of you who have so sweetly expressed worry, and those of you who have not actually expressed worry but have wondered: I am fine.

In fact, I am blissfully happy. And here’s why:

I got my dream job. I am officially a part-time Support Infant/Toddler Teacher at a childcare center with a values-based, child-centered curriculum and two itty bitty new friends coming to join them in December. With two new infants coming, they needed some more hands, and that’s me! I’ve been training there, when I haven’t been working at my babysitting job (which, by the way, is also a great job with awesome kids and which I did not have to quit to take this one!) or sleeping.

Or finish the Twilight series. About which I could add very little to this brilliant article that my Nathan found for me called Our Bella, Ourselves. Before you click that link, though: spoiler alert. You’ve been warned. If you haven’t read the last book, save yourself one of the few possible surprises by not reading the article until you have. And you can have my copy, by the way. Of any of the books. Send your address and the entire series is yours for the cost of postage. Which brings me to one thing that I will add about why I will not be reading these books a second time and to one thing that I was actually surprised the professor of English lit who wrote that ingenious article didn’t mention: the ending does. not. work. And here is my response to a disturbing literary trend.

Dear Writers of Fiction, Particularly the “Supernatural” or “Fantasy” “Young Adult” variety,

For a long time, the best writers of fiction and, at times, popular music, have respected a simple rule: You can’t always get what you want. Someone has to give up something. The higher the stakes, the bigger the sacrifice. And no, mortality doesn’t count. And no, one year spent in misery doesn’t count. Not when you blithely offer us an eternity of perfect happiness with almost no threat on the horizon at the end of your “saga.” Stephenie Meyer, I am talking to you, obviously. I don’t know if this is some sort of allegory for a religious life-style in which eternity with one’s perfect family intact is indeed the prize, but if so, here’s some more news: allegories make for crappy fiction. Ever tried to read Pilgrim’s Progress? Yawn. J.K. Rowling, I am talking to you, too: I know that Harry lost a lot over the years, but you cannot just give him a perfect family standing on a train platform reliving and perfecting his childhood and call it The End. Everything tied up with a nice, neat bow. It makes for a less than memorable experience. In other words, while you may have succeeded with a few of your books, your series will fail to make my list of all-time favorites, because the endings, honestly, make me feel like I just ate way too much candy.

For any skeptics out there, I offer you two several prime examples: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and the more modern Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. First things first, Little Women (if these are spoilers, then you live under a rock and I offer no apologies–even Friends, yes, the sitcom, covered this): Beth dies, and Jo does not end up with her teenage companion Laurie. In other words, the perfect little family is shattered, and nothing can ever put it back together again. If your can read Little Women without crying during Beth’s last scenes, you have no heart. The tears I shed over the sweet (and yes, sometimes annoyingly perfect) littlest sister, Beth, remain one of my fondest childhood literary memories. I still cry when I watch one of the movie versions at Christmas; on a separate note, my very first crush *ever* was the young Christian Bale playing Laurie because he is perfect and perfectly beautiful. Here’s the point: I love the way the family repairs itself around Beth’s absence without ever forgetting her. It is real and raw. It is unexpected, even. If anyone, the father off fighting in the Civil War should die, right? And Beth survives one life-threatening illness. Shouldn’t she be safe? It’s a literary choice with a purpose. She doesn’t use Fate as an excuse. Rowling–you do a good job with this re: the death of Sirius Black. Meyer–you fail. Everyone? Really? Everyone gets to be happy? You could have at least killed off her dad! Give us something to show that this world is actually a dangerous place! Just saying it over and over does not quite do the trick. But here’s where Little Women crushes every competitor: Jo chooses a safer, simpler life when her heart takes her away from the boy fate seems to have provided for her. She grows up. She stops writing Gothic thrillers (perhaps another lesson for Ms. Meyer?) and starts writing about her family. Her marriage is not the big event. Her choice to stay, take over her Aunt’s giant mansion and turn it into a school? That is the event that solidifies Jo’s coming of age.

Now, did you know that there are sequels to Little Women? There are. They are nice, if you absolutely love Little Women, the way I do. But do you know why they are not marketed as The Jo March Saga? Well, they are just too darn happy, and there’s very little tension to keep anyone reading. Good Wives, Little Men. They just doesn’t have the same appeal as Jo’s coming-of-age story. Why does this matter? Because each book is its own book. Beginning, middle, END. Rowling and Meyer, do you hear me? Books are supposed to END! They are not supposed to hang off cliffs, preparing us all for the next one in the series! We’re supposed to keep reading because we are in love with your books, not because you have manipulated us into needing to find out what turn your stupid plot takes! (In case I sound harsh, I want to state I love most of Harry Potter, and will read them to my kids.) If you are going to write a novel, please write an ending. You can still have a sequel (or three, or six), it just takes a bit more skill to keep us reading.

I will spend less time on Bridge to Terabithia, because I don’t expect everyone to have read it. It does not have sequels, and I can’t imagine anything following it up. The “supernatural” is breathtaking in this story, and Patterson (a great writer), takes the time to show us how it parallels real life without hitting us over the head with stupid analogies. (I am still mad Meyer explains each of titles and what they mean as if it weren’t glaringly obvious and as if her readers were too stupid to figure it out and as if it didn’t feel totally out of place in the dialogue.) It’s the story of an unlikely friendship (with extra points for the inter-gender friendship), and I love its utter respect for young inner lives. Young adult fiction writers everywhere: read it and take notes. THIS is how you write all the ecstasy and heartbreak of being young. You show us that it changes who we are. Forever. With all the earnest respect I initially liked about Twilight and none of the spoon-fed sickly sweet stuff meant to help us swallow the “medicine” of perfectly ordinary life events. Perfectly ordinary does not necessitate any less emotion. Adults love Bridge to Terabithia, and I will be so excited to share it with my child when he or she is old enough. I could cry over it a hundred times, and I would still want to read it again. Because it is real.

Love,

Reader and Informal Literary Critic

Anne-Marie

PS I am watching you. You can do better. Step up your game.