Happy Endings Come In A Number Of Flavors

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Cannibal Hearts. If you have not read it and you want to, do not read this post.  If you have already read it, or don’t plan on reading it, go on. 

I will also be discussing the series finale of Burn Notice, and while I will not be saying exactly what happens, I’ll be giving clues.  Semi-spoilers, if you will. If you’ve already seen the end of Burn Notice, read on.  If you haven’t seen Burn Notice, you should, because it’s one of the most tightly plotted series in recent television history. 

Is everyone clear on this?  Here abide monsters.  By continuing past this point you agree to accept all responsibility for what you read and will get absolutely no sympathy from anyone that I spoiled the end of my second book for you.

Toy does not fly.  May contain nuts. Moving parts start automatically without warning.  Not, under any circumstances, to be used as a flotation device.

Okay, then. I have received a number of complaints about the end of Cannibal Hearts. (On the plus side, however, not quite as many people hated it as hated the ending of Catskinner’s Book, so I’m improving.)

James, my narrator, comes home to find that his lover, Godiva, has left him.  I hope that didn’t come as a complete shock to everyone, I did try to do some foreshadowing.  In any event I knew it was the right ending, but I couldn’t quite articulate why.  Tonight my roommate and I watched the end of Burn Notice, (Season 7, Episode 13) and I understood what I had been writing, and why.

Burn Notice is the story of Michael Weston, a spy who is “burned” by the CIA and declared unreliable, cut off from his government contacts, essentially left for dead. Over the course of seven seasons he works to investigate who burned him, and why, and how he can get reinstated. Obviously, I can’t recap the whole series in one blog post, but at the end he faces a choice of loyalties.  (Actually the issue of divided loyalties in central to the entire story arc, and is explored in deep detail–it’s a wonderful lesson in repeating themes across scales.)

In the end, Michael chooses the way that I (and, I assume, most viewers) wanted him to choose.  It’s a bittersweet ending in which much is lost, but we are left with the feeling that Michael did the right thing, or the closest to right thing that he had to choose from. It’s an ending the reaffirms the power of love and family.

Well, as Bob Dylan says, “That ain’t me, babe.”

That’s not the story I have to tell. The story that I have to tell is about the power of the individual to stand up against anyone and everyone.  The ending of Cannibal Hearts is a happy ending–no, really, I mean it.

It’s a happy ending because James doesn’t need Godiva. He doesn’t need anybody.  He and Catskinner are a sovereign nation.  I couldn’t write a traditional happy ending where the good guy and the girl live happily ever after.

I think happily ever after is a cheat.  I think that when you end with a slow heart shaped dissolve on the door of the honeymoon suite what you are really telling the audience is that neither of these people are complete in themselves and they need someone else.

Maybe that’s a good message to tell for society in general. I’m sure that people who need people are, as the song says, the luckiest people in the world. But they aren’t the only people in the world.

Some of us are complete in ourselves. And I think that maybe it’s a good idea for us to have a voice.  James was hurt at the end of Cannibal Hearts, and if I did my job right my readers were hurt along with him.  I cried when I wrote it.

But it didn’t end there. James didn’t die, in fact he’s alive and well in the epilogue and is alive and well in my new novel, The Worms Of Heaven. That’s my message, my Western Union moment.  People come into our lives and they go out of it, and our life goes on. We’re not who we sleep with or who we share a house with. We will love and lose, and we will continue to live.

That’s my idea of a happy ending.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Cannibal Hearts, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Happy Endings Come In A Number Of Flavors

  1. kingmidget says:

    Completely agree! I don’t know that I’ve ever been disappointed by a story that doesn’t have the prototypical “happy ending.” In fact, the books that have disappointed me most, when it comes to the ending, are the ones that are tales of woe and misery in which suddenly in the final chapter, everything is sewn up neatly, wrapped in pretty paper and everything is all rainbows and butterflies. That’s an author who was trying to please his audience rather than being true to the story. I’ll take an ending that is true to the story over the obligatory happy ending any time.

    And, really more central to your theme here is that a happy ending isn’t that everybody lives … but is instead that a bad thing happened and the character(s) managed to figure out a way to go on living. So incredibly true.

  2. sue says:

    We’ve seen Burn Notice. It built up over time but truly Black list and Castle are better for tight plots. It’s not that I hated the ending, you wrote it beautifully, it’s just poor James has a good life and she left

    The end of Burn Notice was satisfying yes

    I love TV – it clarifies. Tonight in Black List – yes monsters are people, rather like your characters

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Several people were a lot more critical of the ending than you were. Evidently I touched a nerve with some readers.

      I’ve heard a lot about Castle, but so far it’s not available on anything I have. I hadn’t heard about The Blacklist until now, I’ll see if I can find it.

      • sue says:

        I agree with Dave that each side of the pond has its own writing style. Or kettle of tentacles lol

        That’s fascinating that readers’ nerves were touched by the ending, especially since some readers were offended by Godiva in the first place.

        By the way, the ending an author writes is more indicative of the author’s psychology than the characters’ wants and needs. Your ending says much about you.

        The blacklist is with James Spader and he is wonderful. His facial expression is one thing but the poetry (in my mind) and vocabulary the writers give him are inspiring

      • MishaBurnett says:

        If anyone was offended by Godiva they never told me about it. People found her surprising, but pretty much everyone who mentioned the character loves her.

  3. Dave Higgins says:

    The happy ending might be a US thing. I enjoy (in translation/subtitled) Eastern European sci-fi, and it has a very different vibe: instead of explosions and romance, it has grim character development. So maybe part of the issue is Hollywood have trained people to expect love’s triumph (or at least a getting the girl version thereof).

    How feasible it would be to get your work into Eastern Europe is an entirely different kettle of tentacles.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I’ve read some Stanislaw Lem, and some Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, but I wouldn’t say I was familiar with Eastern European Science Fiction as a whole. What I have read confirms what you say about endings, however.

  4. sue says:

    if people love Godiva – and I agree – who complained about the sex in the book you mentioned previously?? Now I’m confused – still

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I don’t recall saying that anyone complained about the sex in my books. People have mentioned that it is strange–and they are right, it is strange, and deliberately so–but I wouldn’t call that a complaint. Even the one reviewer who mentioned that he felt uncomfortable reading about Godiva’s reveal as a hermaphrodite went on to say that he liked the characters as people.

      If I gave the impression that people have been offended by my character’s sexuality I didn’t mean to. I’m actually rather surprised that I haven’t had any complaints on that score, since so many other authors seem to.

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