I like a happy ending. In fact, a visitor perusing my bookshelves can easily identify the books that end well. A Room with a View and High Fidelity and A Patchwork Planet and all of Austen are dog-eared and sellotaped-up from being read so often. Jude the Obscure, on the other hand, sits in near-virgin condition in the 'H' section, read exactly once, when I was 19.
I do realize, of course, that happy endings usually occur only in fiction. In the real world, Stalin and Franco died in their beds, and the New Zealand Herald still employs Garth George as a columnist. Unfortunately, as a general rule, the bad end happily in life, and the good unhappily. That, as Oscar Wilde nearly said, is what non-fiction means.
The ending of one of my own bits of non-fiction seems to have frustrated a few people. The essay 'The Beautiful Berton Sisters' in My First Stabbing describes how my friend Jonathan -- a humble wood-cutter's son from Totara North -- ended up with the beautiful Sarah Berton, a goddess with astoundingly excellent hair.
I've counted more than a dozen emails complaining about the ending to this piece. And even one actual physical letter from an 84-year-old, no less. In indignant-looking copperplate, she writes:
Come, come, Dr Haywood. You can hardly leave us hanging like that. Did Jonathan and Sarah get married and produce beautiful children? Your audience demands an answer!
Well, I hate to bring my audience down. I'd really prefer not to say. Although, for people who simply must know, I can provide a slight clue: the answer is an anagram of the word 'on'.
You see? Non-fiction really does suck when it comes to endings. Even my friend Gschwendtner, a normally optimistic guy, became sorrowful when I broke the news to him. "Oh, this reminds me of entropy," he said. "How we will all die. Even the universe."
But then, a week or so ago -- entirely unexpectedly -- I received a communique from Sarah's sister, Susan Berton. Not, I'm pleased to report, a letter from her lawyer (as I'd often feared might happen); but instead, a rather nice email, saying that she'd read the piece and enjoyed it, and providing a brief update on the lives of her beautiful sisters.
Susan, as some of you may remember, had also been mentioned in my essay:
Susan was the youngest of the Berton sisters... she was not only extremely cute, but she also had copious quantities of X-factor. Men used to fall for her like they'd been pole-axed. She worked in a pizza shop, and -- on one single day -- she once had three different men profess their love for her: a delivery boy, a co-worker, and a guy in Wellington who phoned about a yeast order. That's right, she had so much X-factor that it could travel down telephone lines as far as the lower North Island.
In her missive to me, Susan finished up by giving a few details of her post-essay life (as it were). One particular passage leapt from the page:
It so happens that I am still in love with the guy in Wellington who phoned about the yeast order -- and we have created [a daughter], who is about to go to Intermediate School.
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I present the rarest jewel of real life -- a genuine happy ending.