One-Minute Book Reviews

May 18, 2009

Do Readers Want ‘A Tragedy With a Happy Ending’?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:39 am
Tags: , , , , ,

“What the American public wants in the theater is a tragedy with a happy ending,” William Dean Howells said. Do people want this in novels, too? I gave a talk on The Story of Edgar Sawtelle at a library not long ago, and some members of the audience who loved the novel nonetheless disliked the downbeat ending. The reaction surprised me, because the reviews and publicity have made clear that the book has parallels to Hamlet, a tragedy in which corpses litter the stage in the last scene. Have the movies primed us to expect improbably happy endings? Or do the negative reactions have more to do with current events such as the recession?


  1. Hollywood may contribute, certainly, but I don’t think the recession or any other national/global current event has anything to do with readers’ love of a happy (or resolved) ending. I think it’s about redemption. We don’t so much crave a neat and tidy “happily-ever-after” wrap-up, but we DO long for something that validates the human experience — that makes us feel that our lives have meaning and purpose, and that affirms the triumph of the human heart — over evil, over chaos, over torpid indifference.

    Comment by Marty MacMillan — June 10, 2009 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

    • Good point. “Torpid indifference” is a great phrase for something that many of us have faced (and possibly also experienced) too often.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 10, 2009 @ 11:49 pm | Reply

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