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Story Review: Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood

Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood

Happy Endings is a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure story where you are given six plot points to cycle through. The first three are okay, but at point D, I found myself yawning. This is no longer amusing, and is this even a story? I am only willing to call this a short story because of its experimental form and its brevity, which might be considered as self-induced constraints, something that those Oulipo guys do.

My problem with this its narrative voice. It sounds didactic, too didactic even for its purpose. It’s as if one were being taught on how to plot a short story in a hurried way. Or as if one were giving a blow-by-blow account of things that can happen. And by the end of it, you are told the following:

You’ll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don’t be deluded by any other endings, they’re all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or just motivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality.

I think this would have worked if it were an essay. The last few paragraphs are jarring as the tone totally shifts from the bland storyteller to the authoritative workshop panelist. Atwood may have sacrificed literariness to drive a point about plots, but is it a trade-off that is worth it? At the end, she tells us to try how and why, but did she?

How to make a point: create a loose story that mocks the point.

Why make the point: to show readers that the why’s and how’s of fiction are more important than the what’s.

I like the point, but I like fully formed stories more than half-baked ones.

Published in: Murder in the Dark

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


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