Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for The Necklace

I don't read short stories often. I just like to prolong the goodness of a book as long as possible, which is why I usually prefer series to a book (although some authors just don't know when to stop a series *cough* Cassandra Clare *cough* Mellisa De La Cruz *cough*), and about I year ago, I went through a period when I read only series, no standalones at all. And the whole series had to be starring the same main character or else I didn't read it. Yeah, I was picky. Well, now I'm done being picky and all that, so I'm reading a few short stories, at shortstorieseastoftheweb.com. It's a really, really large collection of short stories by published authors, and so when I heard of the short story La Parure, or The Necklace, I ran over there and read it. You can read it here. After you're done reading that, continue reading this.

Done? You sure? Then I shall begin.

I was surprised with how much I enjoyed reading that. So much that I ran to my mother and told her the story. And instead of being pleasantly surprised, she frowned and told me to continue. But I was done - I'd just finished telling her how the necklace was an imitation. So why is there no happily ever after? Everything could have worked out - the diamond necklace sold, the money split, everybody lives happily ever after. Or even better - Madame Forestier could have given the necklace back to Mathilde, and Mathilde could have sold it and, because those types of jewels had now become rare, she could have sold it for an extremely large amount, and then she would have had good food, maids, a good house, and she would have learned to be thankful for what she had, and that would be the happily ever after. But of course, the best stories don't have happily ever afters. But why? Why do authors choose to leave us with partial closure, why not full closure, why leave us hanging and make us hate them? A few days ago, I was looking at a Q&A session with author Jennifer L. Armentrout, who I am obsessed with, and one of the questions she was asked was why she loved leaving readers with these ultramegagigantonormous cliffhangers. She promised that it wasn't because she liked to torture her readers (and then she followed that with an evil laugh, so she's probably lying, and plus, doesn't she know that when she tortures us readers, we hate her? But she's probably too smart for that, and knows hat all that hate disappears as the merest promise of a teaser or a closer publication date for her next book.), but because authors "stop a story when they feel it needs to be stopped". Like they have this kind of sixth sense or something, giving them the right to go on feeling when stories need to be stopped. Which, in Armentrout's case, is a really weird sixth sense because she usually ends those books at the climax. But I'm a sucker for happily ever afters, and I love epilogues, because they usually provide happily ever afters. And so, back to that original question, why no HEA?

First of all, authors see happily ever afters as the "easy way out". Because in real life, there are no happily ever afters. People are always encountering problems, facing hard decisions, and, well, not living perfectly ever after. So, authors strive to be more realistic. Also, happily ever afters provide closure - full closure. This doesn't let you wonder what happens next or whether something even happens next - they just lived happily, ever, after. Lack of that full closure lets the reader wonder, analyze, think, which ultimately makes a story better. So not having a HEA makes a story more memorable. That's my epiphany for today. It doesn't mean that the story should end on a bad note (like, god forbid, the morbid death!). The ending should just be a little bit open for interpretation. (But not too open. You wanna know how the Delirium series ended? By Lauren Oliver? The very last sentences to Requiem? It's like the Oliver chick turned into some wise bearded oracle spurting out wise philosophical nonsense: (Like, I'm not even kidding)
Take down the walls.
That is, after all, the whole point.
You do not know what will happen if you take down the walls; you cannot see through to the other side, don't know whether it will bring freedom or ruin, resolution or chaos. It might be paradise or destruction.
Take down the walls.
Otherwise you must live closely, in fear, building barricades against the unknown, saying prayers against the darkness, speaking verse of terror and tightness.
Otherwise you may never know hell; but you will not find heaven, either. You will not know fresh air and flying.
All of you, wherever you are: in your spiny cities, or your one bump towns. Find it, the hard stuff, the links of metal and chink, the fragments of stone filling you stomach.
And pull, and pull, and pull.
I will make a pact with you: I will do it if you will do it, always and forever.
Take down the walls.

See, that was just way too open of an ending. Not even to a shot story. To a series!)