Special thanks to Leontine from Leontine's Book Realm for the super header.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Books that end badly ...

Or may books that are just bleak.

Why do I read romance books? I just really like a HEA, or a HFN or some sort of upbeat resolution to the story. It’s also why I enjoyed reading mysteries for years. The bad guy gets arrested in the end or there is some kind of positive ending to the story. I read to entertain myself and make my brain lighter and happier. I want to ignore the everyday stuff like the news, work, bills, laundry, and all the hum drum stuff for a bit.

Get to the point woman. Yesterday I was checking out the news on-line and I saw a headline: 'Lemon Cake' finds sadness in child's gift. How could piece of cake cause sadness? They didn’t like lemon cake? The kid was allergic? So I clicked on it and it was actually review of a book called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. Interesting title so I quickly read it.

The main heroine of the book discovers while eating the lemon cake her mother made her for her birthday that she can “taste” the emotions of whoever prepared the food. In this case her mother is very sad so she can sense that through the cake. She is young and has to try and adapt her life to avoid foods that people have prepared. It seemed like a neat premise and the review praised the author’s skill but then the last paragraph was:

While Rose finds a kind of acceptance and satisfaction in using her skill to help others as she ages into her early 20s, a sense of sadness and loss lingers through the end of "Lemon Cake." This isn't a novel to be read lightly or that will brighten a day. But one has to admire Bender's originality and her ability to produce stories that make one grateful for being ordinary.
I don't want to read a book that make me think “That was depressing, thank god my life’s not that bad.” I don’t read to make myself think about big issues, real life can do that just fine thanks, I read to escape those same issues.

So do you enjoy reading books that may end badly (to paraphrase Grace Renquist in Jayne Ann Krentz's Running Hot)? Can you appreciate the quality of the writing even if the overall story is depressing or unpleasant to you? Or are you like me and need to have some kind of a happy ending, even if not the traditional one we all associate with fiction?

30 comments:

Val said...

Wow, this is a really good question, Tam. I'm thinking about it. I've been reading mostly m/m for awhile and I've grown used to those happy endings. Let's see ... I remember when George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (or whatever it's called) series first started coming out in SFF, and while obviously well-written, it was really bleak for epic fantasy. I remember being bummed out at all the suffering and death that his characters (e.g., 99.9% of the main personalities) encountered. On the other hand, I was fine with Brokeback Mountain (book and movie) though it was so sad I only saw the moview once. The ending seemed to fit.

I think that I'll accept a sad ending in a non-romance book, but it needs to be a perfect fit to the story or I'll feel like the author is manipulating me. I definitely have a preference for happy endings.

Lily said...

I read to be entertained and to escape my regular everyday life. I don't want to read a book and come out of the experience feeling sad. I absolutely want a happy ending of some kind, they don't have to be declaring undying love if it's just a quickie erotica but if I'm reading a romance book, I want my happy ending.

Your question brings to mind the first book in the Deadly Mysteries series by Victor J. Banis. Loved the book but the ending is not a happy one. I was disappointed but luckily I had already purchased the next books in the series. If I didn't already have them I would not have bought them at that point, that's how let down I felt. Luckily I had them and so didn't miss out on reading a really good series.

wren boudreau said...

Happy Happy Happy. When I was young and full of angst, I didn't mind not-happy endings at all. Now I try to avoid them. For me, it's become a life's-too-short thing. I also avoid stories with dogs as primary characters, because, you know, the dog always dies.

Tam said...

Val: I can't think of a book I've read that had a non-happy ending really. I must have, maybe I blocked it out. :-) But it certainly has to fit.

Lily: I don't mind if a series leaves me with a sad feeling at the end as long as I know it's a series and there will be more growth in the next book. But in a stand-alone it's not good for me. Like you, I read to escape.

Tam said...

Oh I know Wren. Marley and Me? No thanks. I have some young guy friends who ADORE reading angsty stories and love it when the hero/heroine commits suicide at the end or something equally tragic. They can sit and wallow and lament the sadness in their life. But I'm so over that now. Maybe it's an age thing.

wren boudreau said...

I think it might be. When you start taking your mortality seriously, you look harder for happiness, I think.

I never used to be a sap about children, but after I had my own kid, I started to get weepy whenever a book or especially a movie had an emotional issue involving a child. I still don't manage that very well!

And I will never ever read Marley and Me.

Tam said...

I never used to be a sap about children, but after I had my own kid, I started to get weepy whenever a book or especially a movie had an emotional issue involving a child.

EXACTLY. I HATED Titanic because of that one scene with the mother and the kids. HATED it. Life is too short to spend time wallowing. I never read that dog book nor saw the movie.

K. Z. Snow said...

Whoops, sorry.

Anyway, ditto what Wren said. (I have to echo other people's comments, because I'm funneling all my originality into my WIP. *g*)

I actually used to prefer nonhappy endings. Most of my favorite novels and stories had them. In fact, my Samhain novel is pretty bleak. But it seems the older I get, the more I quail from misery.

Brokeback Mountain left me absolutely devastated. I watched the movie twice but haven't seen it since. Not only did I sob at the end until my eyes burned, I felt wretched for days afterward. The original story was a bit easier to take -- the prose is spare and the tone is somewhat detached -- but it still made me squirm. I even got irritable throughout the last third of Almost Like Being in Love, and I was gnashing my teeth at the end of Call Me by Your Name.

Horror and psychological thrillers don't bother me, certainly because there's a whole different set of expectations involved. I just picked up a Barbara Vine novel and fully expect to relish its twisted darkness.

But NO DOGS. Not on TV, not in movies, not in books. Call me a callous bitch, but I'd rather see a human character bite the dust than an innocent animal. Shit, I even felt sorry for Cujo.

Tam said...

Age does seem to be a factor. Maybe we're less self-indulgent as we get older. I've never seen Brokeback. Once I heard how it ended I avoided it. I hate chick flicks too (even though they end well, there has to be a sadness to the story somewhere). I'd rather see Bruce Willis cause mayhem somewhere. :-)

I too feel worse for animals than people. Because animals don't have a choice. No dog or camel asks to be a bad guy, but humans chooose that so I don't feel badly if they get taken out.

Sweet Vernal Zephyr said...

Well, I srsly expect a HEA in my romances BUT Dark Urban Fantasy—No Way.

Chris said...

That would be the reason that I quit the bookclub I was in and started to read romance. Holy crap, I got tired of reading depressing books. If anyone recommends Songs in Ordinary Time to you, just shoot yourself in the foot instead. It'd be less painful. I swear things got work for those people on every page - including the last damn paragraph of the book.

Tam said...

I suppose it does depend on the genre Miranda.

I know Chris. Book clubs seem to be so damn serious all the time. Sigh. I've never heard of that book but I'll be sure to pass. :-)

Rikki said...

Only happy endings for me, please. I read enough "serious" literature when I was younger, but, hey, even Jane Eyre has a good ending of sorts.
I got Brokeback Mountain before I knew how it ended. Never got round to watching it, but when I heard how it ends, I reconsidered. How depressing! HEA is a must these days.

Tam said...

It does seem that a lot of the literature we were made to read in high school and university was very dark and serious Rikki. A lot of people have turned away to more upbeat types of work, even sci-fi and mysteries have good endings, different than a romance of course.

Kris said...

That book was a Sarah Michelle Gellar movie. The movie was much more feel goody. Sappy as much as possible for me please. That is why I read romance after all.

Tam said...

SMG was in a cake movie? I don't like sappy movies, even if they end up HEA, there is too much sap before that and staring off into the sunset crying. I'm so harsh.

Kris said...

A food movie where her emotions went into the stuff she cooked: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0145893/

Erotic Horizon said...

Originality rules for me everytime..

While I love a happy ending, who doesn't - I love to have that cheesy grin and that sigh!!, you know the one when all is well is your world at the end of a book..

But..

If I have a choice I go for the originality of plot and can live with death of a character, illness, or even protags riding off into the sunset in different directions.. just make the story something that shine and stand head and shoulder above the influx of the same that's out there..

I loved Brokeback Mountain - it a story I will never forget and who says happiness is assured..

Karin Slaughter thriller series - She killed her hero mid series and I thought she broke into new ground when she did that, her stories just got better and better without that annoying ass.

E.H>

Tam said...

Hmmm. An annoying hero huh? :-) I know writing helps but I just can't seem to read a book if I know it will end badly, even well before I got back into romance. Obviously many people enjoy them though, there are a fair number of them out there.

ErotRomReader (Janna) said...

I don't mind reading books that don't have a happy ending, in fact I do all the time. But... when I pick up a romance novel I DEMAND it ends with a HEA (or HFN at least). Because then I expect that happy ending and it's in fact the reason why I pick a book from this genre in the first place. Other genres I read for different reasons.

Tracy said...

Oh honey I need my HEA or HFN! Most definitely! I don't want to read a story that doesn't end well or where the main character's not happy. I once read a Sex in the City TYPE book and one of the girls was sleeping with a married man. Why I kept reading I have no idea but it was pretty good - and then they broke up, the girl was sad and it ended. WTF? I blame myself for continuing to read! LOL

Tam said...

Maybe I'm just old and set in my ways Janna. I don't even have any interest in reading a book like the one I described. I don't care how good it is.

Maybe there was supposed to be a lesson there Tracy. Don't fool around with a married man, you'll be miserable. But she could have met a nice single boy at the Starbucks in the last paragraph who asked her out. Would that be so hard? :-)

jitterbug said...

Tam, I haven't seen or read Brokeback Mountain either, nor I am interested in doing it. If a book has a love story in it, and especially if the love story is the main focus of the book, I want said love story to end well, the happier the better. I remember a Kiernan Kelly's book of which I've never re-read the last chapter. I've never been interested in reading the Audrey Niffenegger's book because I read somewhere there was some kind of not so happy ending, I refused to sit for hours and hours just to see the main male character in Titanic die in the freezing water, I was even miffed with Harry Potter when he broke up with his girlfriend in book 6.

While I can accept the high mortality/tragedy level in books like GRRMartin's A song of Ice and Fire and I love some authors, even classical ones, that are not/were not interested in writing romantic stuff, I've noticed that lately I'm not so inclined to buy books that have no love stories whatsoever. I am definitely a Sap.

Mariana said...

I hate Jodi Picoult. The very first (and only) book I've read of hers was My Sister's Keeper. That book affected me so deeply, that if I ever saw her on the street, I think I'd hit her. For weeks the thought of that book would DEPRESS me for days.

I am not one for bad endings. It doesn't have to be the happiest of happy; but it should end with hope. Books that are so horribly sad, I just can't deal with. There's enough of that in real life.

Cry No More by Linda Howard, which I LOVE more than anything; had a pretty sad premise. Having my own child, this was something that was real to me. I loved that while it wasn't all sunshine at the end, there was hope.

This was a great post, btw :) (sorry the ranty feel to this)

Tam said...

I'm in a romance mode now too Sara. But I didn't read it for 15 years so maybe I'm making up for lost time. I'm just have no interest in other books. We'll see if my tastes change over time.

Thanks Mariana, rant away. :-) I'm with you, it doesn't have to be sunshine and rainbows at the end but hope or the assumption that things improve after the book ends. As you said, enough sad stuff with no happy endings in real ife.

Michelle M. said...

I saw that SMG movie! When I saw the write up for this book in People (or Entertainment Weekly?) that movie was the first thing that came to mind.

The past couple of years I've been avoiding weepy books. Unless it's by Elizabeth Berg or Alice Hoffman (who always makes me tear up).

Sarah said...

Nope. Don't like reading anything that ends with weepy rubbish. It's HEA or HFN all the way for me. AND not triumph of the human spirit either!

Do you have a favorite mystery series? Author? I read them for years too. Bit of a fan of Brit mystery stuff.

Tam said...

I thought the idea sounded really original Michelle, but obviously not. I've never read either of those two authors and I'll likely steer clear. I get enough tissue usage as it is.

"weepy rubbish". Great phrase Sara. I love Brit mysteries the best too. Of course I love Agatha Christie but I also love PD James, Colin Dexter, RD Wingfield and there's one set in Scotland too which escapes me right now, but when I found that series I read them all.

jitterbug said...

Do you mean M.C. Beaton's Hamish MacBeth books, Tam? I've never read them, but I'm thinking of giving them a try. I love mysteries too! :)

Tam said...

Argghhh. I had to go googling it was driving me crazy. I knew there was a J involved. It's the Bob Skinner series by Quintin Jardine.