I was digging through some of my old graduate school manuscripts. One of my instructors had commented that the story I’d submitted should have a more ambiguous ending. I have no doubt she was right, but this got me thinking about endings. I couldn’t help but reflect on my current work. Did the ending need more ambiguity? Could I make the ending of my novella more ambiguous?
I suppose I could. I suppose there could be more of the unknown or unknowable there. I suppose I could have some mystery hovering over the relationship of the protagonist and his lover.
But I think it would be more subversive to have an unambiguously hopeful ending. This is because the novel is a queer story; the protagonist is queer, and so is his relationship with his lover.
Queer stories, for anyone who knows, are impossibilities when it comes to endings. You have two paths and two paths only: the one which leads to a happy ending, and the other which leads to an obscene tragedy of some kind,
Guess which ending is most common, even today.
So I prefer the unambiguously happy ending. It’s more powerful, more subversive. And it gives queer people much needed hope.
Ambiguity can have its place in fiction, certainly. But, when it comes to endings, I think queer people deserve more than tragedy or ambiguity.
Sometimes you hear adults in their thirties and forties say light-heartedly, “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.” No matter how lightly this common sentiment is stated, the feeling is full of inferiority. What’s wrong with me? I should be a success by now. I should be making plenty of money. I should be settled. But in spite of these wishes, the sense of the child who is not yet ready for success and settling is strong. The recognition can be a soulful moment. It bears a melancholic tone that is a signal of soul reflecting on its fate and wondering about its future. It is a potential opening to imagination, and to some extent this is the power of the child. The child’s smallness and inadequacy is the “open sesame” to a future and to the unfolding of potentiality.
– from Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
Let me just talk about my love of Alice Hoffman’s novels here. Some spoilers for Second Nature, which I am about halfway through right now, and for some of her other novels.
I just love how Hoffman has this “veneer of suburban/rural goodness” going on in her work, where everything, on the surface at least, is picturesque and beautiful. Nothing seems amiss.
But right below the surface of that there is whole levels of messed up stuff going on. Really gruesome and even grotesque things. People casting love potions which basically destroy lives. Women losing their minds over lust and desire and cutting themselves. Schoolboys who kill the irritating outsider who has upset their world. People who get hit by lightening and survive and have to grapple with that. Etc.
In Second Nature, the two main characters fall in love, and you can tell they desire each other. But it takes some months for them to consummate that desire. Some months and a dead cat with a slit throat. The main characters end up having sex in the yard, with the cat’s blood all over their hands and clothes. It’s incredibly savage, incredibly erotic, and messed up if you dwell on it. But it’s perfect too. It works for the characters. And it’s Alice Hoffman through and through.
It’s one of my favorite things about her writing. She is not afraid to go to places that are disquieting and unsettling.