Deal Me In Challenge: Story #45 – “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

Deal Me InThis 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.

Clipboard01This 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.)


3 thoughts on “Deal Me In Challenge: Story #45 – “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood

  1. Pingback: Deal Me In – Week 45 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

  2. This sounds really interesting. There’s a Frank O’Connor story somewhere (can’t remember the name of it, I just remember studying it in boredom in school) with two possible outcomes / endings, but five is pretty remarkable!

  3. Margaret Atwood’s “Stone Mattress” collection is maybe the book I’m most looking forward to reading in 2015. The premise of this story sounds interesting and I’d like to see how Atwood handles it myself. 🙂


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