I love a happy ending. For me, novels can be an escape from the harsh realities of life. I enjoy entering the world a novelist creates and becoming engaged by the characters and their lives. If the novelist has done her job well, I come to care for the characters and hope the “good guys” enjoy a happy ending. For the most part, the novels I’ve read this year have ended happily, but not all. Stephen King’s Insomnia has a sad ending because one character finds much-deserved happiness only to have it yanked away prematurely. Too bad. I was rooting for him. Lucha Corpi’s Eulogy for a Brown Angel includes a death at the end that seems unnecessary, just another way to add tragedy to the story. But, given that the author uses the main character to start a mystery series, maybe, somehow, this seemingly unnecessary death serves some kind of purpose for the next book. I’ll know if that’s so, when I read the next in the series.
But though I prefer a happy ending, it doesn’t make sense to have one if it doesn’t suit the story’s themes or characters. For example, I loved Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation, but I did not like the ending. However, I understood why it had to end the way it did: it made sense, given the protagonist’s responsibilities to her family and her goals in life. An ending can also be “bad” if it lets the reader down in terms of expectations. Otessa Moshfegh’s Eileen is a big disappointment. I didn’t like the book from page one, but I was drawn in by the protagonist who kept teasing about a big reveal. There was no such big reveal. For me, it was a complete letdown.
There is also the ambiguous ending, which leads the reader to imagine what the end might mean or leaves the characters’ fates undetermined. I’m not crazy about that ending, either, though to an extent, I was guilty of writing such an ending for my first novel, My Doormat Days. I didn’t even realize it at first, not until readers asked if there would be a sequel, that it had been ambiguous. I finally realized that they wanted to know about the resolution of one of the relationships in the novel. I didn’t think it was important enough to spell it out, but on the other hand, it’s a good sign that the readers cared enough about the characters to want to know what the future held for their relationship.
So , though I prefer a happy ending, it doesn’t make sense to have one if it doesn’t suit the story.