First thing's first: the perfect ending doesn't exist -- for me, anyway. Because if it really is a perfect ending, in the conventional "everything's wrapped up and happy" sense, it's automatically imperfect for me. I don't want a happy ending -- I just want it to be tolerable.
By "tolerable," I'm not saying I think endings should stop at acceptable, that they should just be ho-hum. Definitely not; I like explosions and betrayal and fight scenes as much as the next reader. But I want endings to be bittersweet and slightly painful -- I want the "we missed Happily Ever After by about ten miles" version.
Everything can't just work out. That, unfortunately, is what Disney movies are for.
Maybe that's why I don't like the happy endings so much. Maybe I watched too many Disney movies when I was younger, where Sleeping Beauty and Snow White woke up and Prince Charming found the shoe and Beast turned back into a human, and everything worked out. (Extra points go to Pocahontas, since John Smith got hurt and shipped back where he came from. Negative points go to Pocahontas 2, because that movie was moronic and nobody likes John Ralfe or whatever that punk was named. I guess you can tell I'm more of a John Smith fan.)
Anyway, some more examples of endings that had some element of bittersweet in them? I think yes. Technically, I guess I can't talk about the endings if you haven't read them already, because that would just ruin life, but it's understood that I highly recommend the books listed below.
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Love this book. I'm normally not into this genre or time period, but this is tied for first in my All-Time Favorites list. (Team Phineas all the way.)
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Lots of people probably read this in school, so the ending's not as big of a secret, but I thought it was so refreshing that it didn't end very well. How many other stories out there had an ending to a similar effect? Plus, it had characters like Jordan and Gatsby. Nick wasn't bad, either.
- The Cay by Timothy Taylor. My mom read it to me when I was sick in the fifth grade. I hadn't thought about it in a while, but when I was thinking of bittersweet endings, it popped into my brain. Must reread this....
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. This was one of my favorite books. I need to read this one again, too.
Do you agree, or are you more on the Happily Ever After side? What are some books with bittersweet endings you've read, and did you think the books pulled them off?