In praise of…the bittersweet ending

I’ve been talking up Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members to every reader I’ve met since I finished the book over a week ago. Everyone I’ve talked to seemed interested…except one person. I was talking about the book’s humor and the protagonist’s love of literature and the exception was listening. But when the exception asked if the book had a happy ending, I paused. They did not take this as a good sign. The exception only likes happy endings.

USA. New York City. 1957. Woman reading on the subway.
USA. New York City. 1957. Woman reading on the subway.

I like bittersweet endings. I have ever since I read A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton’s lines, just before he goes to his dead, still make me sniffle: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” (Source). Bittersweet endings always strike me as the most perfect endings. In them, I often find justice, resolution, emotional depth, but with hope or the promise that life will go on to leaven the sadness.

Perhaps I don’t like happy endings because I don’t trust them. They don’t feel real to me most of the time because the characters didn’t have to earn their happiness. When I close the cover on a book with a bittersweet ending, I usually feel a sense of satisfied rightness that I don’t get with other books—even if I usually end up feeling gutted by the emotional toll.

Favorite books with bittersweet endings:

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