I challenge the Lit-Criterati

The Mathematician and I are not very good about anniversaries. We both forget them. Sometimes we’ll remember at the same moment and then we both get a little cranky, thinking the other one should have thought to say something. The most we ever do is go out to dinner, and usually — if he remembers in time — the Mathematician will bring me some flowers.

I’m also very bad about birthdays. The three I really should remember (my own, the Mathematician, and the Girlchild) can even cause me to pause. I would plead early onset Alzheimers, but I have always been this way.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I completely overlooked the fact that this weblog turned three on September 13. In fact, that really isn’t important in the general scheme of things. I hesitate to write about really important things (good or bad) because no amount of logical reasoning or education can conquer the superstitious Italian in me. Who right now is in high gear, tossing salt madly over one shoulder and hissing at me to stop, for dog’s sake, before I do real damage.

Thus I point you to somebody else with a really good post. Paperback Writer has a list of ten books she’d like to read. You’ll have to go look if you’re interested because there’s no way to describe it without being reductive.

I don’t have the energy to come up with ten books, but I do have one book I can tell you about:

I’d like to read a literary novel — a novel marketed to the litcrit crowd and written by one of their established superpowers– with an unabashedly happy ending. I’d challenge Updike, Munro, Byatt, just to start with. These three are masters of their craft, and as masters should be equal to the challenge: tell a story and make the ending happy. No excuses, no tricks.

Some other rules:

  • this novel has to be written in third person POV
  • it may not be set on a university campus
  • none of the main characters may be writers, aspiring writers, editors, publishers, teachers of writing
  • it doesn’t have to contain a love story, but extra points if it does
  • it may not be a parody or satirical treatment

What major figure in the literary world would take up this challenge? Be brave enough to put aside, for one book only, the cherished no pain no gain ideology that has permeated the entire genre?

If I had $100,000 dollars to spare, I’d open up a real competition.

8 Replies to “I challenge the Lit-Criterati”

  1. What about Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time? It has a tragic beginning but I thought a happy and uplifting end. I can’t remember what POV it’s in and I can’t find my copy. It has an odd sub plot which makes it interesting – all about a parliamentary committee on children’s education.

  2. Great idea for a challenge – I think readers might like more ‘literary happy.’ But I went temporarily insane pondering an un-trite happy ending. Maybe “happy” is my problem :)

  3. Haven’t read that McEwan, but I’ll put it on my list.

    Happy endings are a matter of fashion, you realize. Austen and Dickens didn’t get sneered at for happy endings. And mostly they avoided trite.

  4. Finally someone agrees with me. What’s wrong with a happy ending? It seems there’s this “trend” to make a sad, depressing ending, in books and movies. People will say a happy ending is not realistic. Who cares? Do I read/watch movies to see real life happening in all its tragics forms? Nope. Not me.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree. Book after literary book feature lovely craft but arbitrarily angsty endings, hence my romance bent.

    That said, I recommend for history lovers a novel called The Siege by Helen Dunmore. Set during the siege of Leningrad in WWII, it is about as low and depressing as one can get… except that it has a happy ending. Well, at least as happy as people can reasonably expect after surviving such a thing. The lovers survive. Yes, it actually has a love story. She is a marvellous British writer; I would call her a mix of Ian McEwan and Charlotte Bronte. One of my all-time faves because she doesn’t shrink from anything – bad OR good.

  6. I agree — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with happy endings. Heck, in life, there’s hardly ever anything you could definitely call an “ending” the way a story comes to a conclusion (how often do all concurrent subplots get wrapped up at the same time?), so even that is somewhat unrealistic.

    I also like the “third person POV” part of the challenge. I like shifting POVs (I really liked “The Robber Bride” by Margaret Atwood for this reason) especially when different people talk about the same character and the reader gets their different views of the same trait.

    I’d like to ask Rosina why she included this, though. Does it seem like first-person POV is overused, or is there something else you dislike about it?

  7. I didn’t say there are NO literary novels with happy endings. But they are very rare. Shipping News has a happy ending; Possession has a half-happy ending.

    But generally happy endings are frowned upon.

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