This week’s story for the Deal Me In Challenge comes via the Queen of Clubs – Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”, which was first published in the 1983 collection “Murder in the Dark”.
This piece could probably be labeled a story cycle, as it is constructed of several shorter stories that are all related, twisting back into each other in multiple ways. The opening is simple enough:
“John and Mary Meet.
What happens next?
If you want a happy ending, try A.”
Section A presents a basic story of boy-meets-girl, they marry, they live happily ever until old age takes them to their death. Subsequent sections riff on this initial premise, introducing changes and detours and plot-thickeners that drastically change the fates of Mary and John. Life is messy, and Atwood shows that while a story is rarely as simple as the ideal proposed in Section A, there are only a very few plots that any story can ultimately follow.
This work is experimental and playful and cutting and feels a bit like a writing prompt crossed with a Choose Your Own Adventure book. It also succeeds as a short treatise on the art of short story writing. By the end, Atwood breaks the fictional wall, addressing the reader directly. I would love to see her play around with this sort of format in a longer work. Perhaps she already has.
I really enjoyed this story. I ended up reading it aloud to my boyfriend, and we began talking about how it would make an excellent short stage play, with Atwood as on-stage narrator. (Tangential note: She’s currently working with “classical music-pop culture theatrical group” Art of Time on a project that meshes poetry with music. Her segment is called “noirish”, and I can’t help being intrigued. I’d love to see something like this live.)