I have Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin and Surfacing on my to-be-read shelf for quite sometime now but haven’t gone ahead to reading them. It’s a good thing that I was able to sample her writing in this short story before I delve into her full-length works.
Happy Endings reads like those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a child. I enjoyed jumping from one page to another, trying to know what happens next if I choose a particular act or the other. Often, I would read through all the options and exhaust all possible choices and would find out that certain choices sometimes leads to different scenarios but would still have the same endings.
I think this is what Margaret Atwood wants to point out in this story: that you may choose different paths but will still eventually have the same ending. Unlike Choose Your Own Adventure, however, where the chapters are really adventures for a grade school kid like me (scary creatures, dark cellars, animal transformations, etc.), in Happy Endings, the characters are adults (John and Mary) and the story begins when John and Mary meet. From Point A to Point Z. What happens through Points B to Y? Choose your own adventure. You will still end up in Point Z.
It was interesting to read through all the possibilities (six in all) contemplated by Atwood and I even had a good laugh at a couple of scenarios. Some were morbid and sad:
Yes, but Fred has a bad heart. The rest of the story is about how kind and understanding they both are until Fred dies. Then Madge devotes herself to charity work until the end of A. If you like, it can be “Madge,” “cancer,” “guilty and confused,” and “bird watching.”
In the end, Happy Endings sounds like a tutorial on how to write a story but it is also a rough tutorial on how to live our lives. Sure, we get born in this world and we eventually die but what happens in between is still up to us and to the choices we will make. Choose your own adventure. Will we want to have a happy ending?
So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.
That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.
Now try How and Why.
My rating: 3/5 stars.