Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Are We Addicted to Happy Endings?

I've often complained about readers writing bad reviews because a particular story didn't end Happily Ever After.  I even wrote a book as unhappily as I could to trap those morons.

But this isn't about that.  This is about something that happened on Critique Circle a few months ago.  I wrote a blurb for a story.  Here it is:
Advancing to its first Final Four should have the students of Bailey University in a hard-partying mood. Instead, the campus is shocked and horrified by a terrible crime committed against its most beloved resident. Red, the university's bulldog mascot, has been taken! If the university doesn't pay a million dollars in ransom by tip-off of the championship game, Red will be gone forever. But the crime is even worse than the student body thinks because it's an inside job.
 Mark Carmichael is Red's handler and social media coordinator—and also a rotten gambler. Into a local bookie for a hundred grand, Mark seizes upon a desperate plan to pay his debts and make a nice nest egg for himself: he'll give Red to a couple of stoner friends for a few days, stage the dognapping, and collect the ransom. Then there will be a tearful reunion on camera to make Mark and Red world famous. It's a foolproof plan.
 Except there's a stingy university president who doesn't want to pay for a dog, an overzealous campus policeman hot on Mark's trail, and an intrepid reporter—the girl Mark dreamed of having in high school—who's suddenly interested in him. Cleaning up after a bulldog and writing Twitter posts never prepared Mark for this!
 The Dognapping is a black comedy in the mold of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty or the Coen Brothers' Fargo.

And someone replied:
And make it so the reader can pull for Mark and the intrepid reporter girl and Red to ride off happily into the sunset after Baily University—against mountainous odds—wins the tournament with a buzzer-beating three-pointer. That kind of story.
OK, so let me get this straight:  the guy who got deep in debt from gambling and stages a dognapping to get money from his employer to pay his gambling debts (plus extra for a nest egg) should get to live Happily Ever After with the reporter and the dog?  What the hell does Mark do to deserve a happy ending?  Nothing!  He's actually a pretty shitty person.  But he should totally get to run off Happily Ever After into the sunset.  No wonder there are people who still think the assholes in Superstore should get to live Happily Ever After no matter how shitty they are to other people.

This same person a month or so later whined about a story not seeming to end happy.  It was about a Mennonite woman whose husband goes to work in some other town and cheats on her--with another man!  And this person commented, why wouldn't she want him back?  Um, because he cheated on her.  With a dude.  Duh.  But no, she has to take him back!  We have to have an imaginary Happily Ever After!  Dude has some serious issues.

Much like respect, happy endings have to be earned, not just given.  Would Fargo (the basis for this story) have been better if William H Macy got the ransom and ran away with his mistress?  Or if the kidnappers had been killed and he and his wife reconciled?

Now if Mark needed money because his grandma had cancer and he needed to pay for treatments, then he might deserve a Happily Ever After, but not for paying gambling debts.  Which isn't to say that sometimes we don't root for the "bad guy."  I mean in heist movies like Ocean's Eleven we root for the crooks to get away, right?  But at least in that movie you have crooks robbing an asshole casino manager so that makes it OK!  Or in Hell or High Water two brothers rob a string of banks.  But...it's because their home is being foreclosed on and they only rob branches of that bank to pay the mortgage and keep the house, which has oil on the property.  So a happy ending is OK for them because they have a righteous cause.

So maybe if the college president is a real asshole and the bookie goes around kicking puppies or something then his caper might be justified.

But as I wrote it, Mark doesn't deserve a happy ending.  So, are some people just addicted to happy endings that they can't even recognize when a happy ending isn't justified?  I think so.

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