Tag: happy endings

Short story: “Jonny Appleseed”

“Jonny Appleseed,” by Joshua Whitehead

Appeared in The Malahat Review (PDF), issue #197: Indigenous Perspectives, Winter 2016, guest-edited by Richard Van Camp

5273 words

An interesting look at growing up gay on a reservation. The ending isn’t really the end, of course—the main character is likely to have a lot more problems in his life—but it’s nice: an intimate moment with a boyfriend who accepts him as he is. (I don’t think he ever told Tias about Lucia, but they’re intimate all the same.)


Short story: “George and Elizabeth”

“George and Elizabeth,” by Ben Marcus

Appeared in Granta 133: What Have We Done (online here, behind a paywall), November 18th, 2015

8273 words

The relentless cynicism (detachment? deflection? cruel superficiality?) of the narration is all worth it for that last line.

On Revolutionary Girl Utena’s opening sequence

I think this sequence represents the events of the series as Anthy remembers them: her and Utena coming together and yet being constantly separated.

We see her and Utena together, doing that almost-kiss thing before their hands are torn apart, alternately naked and wearing their dueling outfits. Next we see them in their school clothes, Utena beside a phallic tower and a crowd of boys, Anthy beside a yonic gate and a crowd of girls, their everyday lives apparently separated by gender roles. After that, a pair of cage-like gates part and we see the birdcage-shaped greenhouse in which the two of them stand together, united but perhaps trapped. The lyrics take a bittersweet turn. We’re treated to an unabashedly romantic idyll—something the like of which is never shown onscreen in the series itself—presumably taking place some ordinary day when nothing else was going on. It is interrupted by a transition to the duels.

A montage of duelists. Apocalyptic imagery signals the final duel, revolution. As the arena crumbles, Dios wakes—is this a bittersweet fake-out, with Dios as an empty mirage, or is this a symbol of the awakening of Anthy’s true self?* In another ambiguous moment, we see Anthy and Utena, armor-clad, riding magic horses through the upside-down castle—are they fighting their way towards adulthood and freedom, as the lyrics seem to suggest, or are they trapped in Ohtori’s endless carousel of fairy-tale illusion? The two are torn apart again. Utena falls back and ends up alone.

The end of the opening sequence plays with the idea of an ending in which Anthy vanishes from Utena’s life. Instead, the series shows Anthy constantly, quietly vanishing—denying herself, colluding with Akio—until, ultimately, she is able to imagine Utena waiting for her.

*It’s never made explicit, but I read Dios as largely a projection of Anthy’s own strength and nobility, rather than a lost part of Akio. It seems obvious that Anthy magically imprisoned young Dios’s powers inside herself, and I see no reason to think they were ever his to begin with; perhaps she used witchcraft to make all his good deeds possible. Nor do we see anyone but Anthy behind the Rose Gate. There’s one other hint that Dios is Anthy—when Anthy disguises herself as a boy, her hair looks like Dios’s.

Short story: “The Testimonie of Alyss Teeg”

“The Testimonie of Alyss Teeg,” by Carys Davies

Appeared in Ploughshares Summer 2016, guest-edited by Claire Messud and James Wood; the opening can be read on Project MUSE

Pages 25–37 in the magazine, maybe 3000 words?

A fine, cruel story.

The eccentric spelling and capitalization seem to insist on the authenticity of the narrative voice. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing; it made me pay closer attention to the narrator’s diction and syntax, asking myself whether someone could have written this without being what I think of as fully literate, questioning, doubting.

The word “testimony” suggests that Alyss is presenting for our judgment the real truth of what happened. But of course she can’t give us the real truth, any more than she could give it in court; the real truth is hidden in the heart of her sibling, the one she never stops calling “James Elward.”

Short story: “Owl Eyes”

“Owl Eyes,” by Joyce Carol Oates

Appeared (PDF) in The Yale Review, Vol. 104 No. 3, July 2016

Around 17.5 pages, 6501 words

I’m not sure how to feel about the ending of this story. Jerald has discovered a new place in himself, a new capacity for action, but it’s hard to know what his adventure will cost him. I’m also not completely sure I buy the suddenness of his change.

I found myself slightly jarred—irrationally—by the mention of an iPad. Something about the language or the setting feels to me like that of an earlier era. Or it might be that the language sounds so very Joyce Carol Oates (I was reading her work before iPads were around) that I’m automatically taken back in time.

Short story: “Where It Lives”

“Where It Lives,” by Nathaniel Lee

Appeared in issue 35 of Nightmare Magazine, August 2015; featured on Dread Central, August 5th

3644 words

I love the kind of fiction that captures a specific, bizarre, yet familiar and sympathetic mental state.

This is a horror story—that final image of Tilly’s mom really makes it—but it’s the kind of horror story that has a semi-happy ending. I like that.

Alternate-reality characters and unlikely happy endings

Following up on this, a recent installment of Homestuck included something that can only be done in speculative fiction, and I want to savor it by analysis:

Dave grew up with an abusive guardian who died before Dave got the chance to come to terms with his abuse. In this scene, he finds himself face to face with Dirk, an alternate-reality version of his abuser. While Dirk has technically never done anything to Dave, he’s already acquired the behavior patterns that could lead him in the same direction.

For the first time, Dave gets to vent some of his justified anger. Dirk not only looks and feels like Dave’s guardian, he also intuitively understands his other self’s cruelty and feels partly responsible. And because he’s not that other self, Dave can eventually forgive him, learn to trust him, and even ask him for the comfort and affection he never got as a kid.

If Dave had tried to reconcile with his actual abuser to this extent, he would have likely have gotten burned again. But with Dirk, he has a chance of starting over on his own terms. They’re even the same age this time. It’s an amazing scene of catharsis and the best kind of wish fulfillment.

How would a realistic narrative do this? I suppose Dirk’s role could be filled by a twin sibling or a son. Or Dave’s guardian could suffer a traumatic brain injury that makes him effectively a new person. Or the cathartic confrontation could occur in a dream sequence or a hallucination or a story within the story. But these are only approximations of the thing we’re trying to do, a thing that Homestuck offers in its purest form.

Compare the quasi-redemption at the end of “Bullet in the Brain,” which is made possible only by messing with chronology.

Short story: “Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets”

“Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets,” by Jacob M. Appel

Appeared in The Gettysburg Review, issue 23:2, summer 2010; published in a collection of the same title by Black Lawrence Press

15 pages in the magazine, maybe 2,500 words

For a story about a topic as contentious as abortion, this is a charmingly light and gentle piece. You can feel the author being amused by his characters, maybe, but not censuring them or talking down to them.

I tend to read the ending as being about Ziggy’s moral failure. He has allowed his choices to be dictated more by emotion than by rationality, and surely he will have cause to regret it soon. Then again, neutrality was never really a viable moral stance for him to take, and how much harm can he do by making himself happy?

Short story: “Unwell”

“Unwell,” by Carolyn Parkhurst

Appeared in the anthology Stories: All-New Tales (2010), edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, which won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Edited Anthology

Maybe 8,000 words?

Deliciously nasty. This is the best kind of unlikable character—the one who keeps us guessing what awful thing she’s going to do next.

Short story: “Makeisha in Time”

“Makeisha in Time,” by Rachael K. Jones

Appeared in Crossed Genres Magazine (subscribe), Issue 20: Time Travel, August 2014; featured in Podcastle episode 345, January 6th, 2015; featured in Cast of Wonders episode 176, August 30th, 2015 and as a Staff Pick for episode 191, January 20th, 2016; also read for StarShipSofa No 414, December 9th, 2015; appeared in the full list of Hugo nominations and so was collected in the first Long List Anthology, published by Diabolical Plots, L.L.C., December 15th, 2015

3,212 words

I remember being impressed but frustrated by this story when I first read it in Crossed Genres. At first I read the ending as another form of suicide, but on a reread I understand it better. Our society has forgotten Makeisha a thousand times. We don’t deserve her. She belongs to a better era, and now she’s going to find one.

This is the type of story that wears its politics, and its political anger, on its sleeve. That limits its depth, I think, but opens the way for more works of fiction exploring the same territory.