Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bree Didn't Live Happily Ever After

Have you ever read a book knowing that the end only meant death?

In Stephenie Meyer's novella, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, Bree's second life is, in fact, very short. I read the book anticipating the demise of the protagonist, and my expectations were not disappointed. (Okay, I may have entertained the hope that Meyer had found a loophole that made it possible to save Bree in the end. She didn't.)

I suppose death works in this novel because of who the author is and what universe this story belongs to. But could this work in another novel? Would we typically invest our time reading a story that ends with the protagonist's death?

Bree wins in other ways (which I won't be so mean to spoil in this post, but you can read the novella by clicking on the link above). But in preserving her life (her second life...) she fails.

What drives us to read a book if it's not the idea that when we are through, the protagonist (whom we've grown to care about), will continue on thriving in the fictional world? I guess we have to ask if we read a story for the end or for the journey...or both.

Stephenie Meyer begins the novella with a lengthy intro, stating she'd like us to know Bree's perspective. I did come away knowing more about newborn vampires and the Twilight world, and so I won't say I'm disappointed in having read it. I did echo Meyer's wish when she stated...

The closer I got to the inevitable end, the more I wished I'd concluded Eclipse just slightly differently.

(I did consider that if Bree lived and joined the Cullen's coven, it may have spiced things up a little. I think she would have had a tragic crush on Edward, and maybe bit Bella herself.)

Can you think of another book in which the protagonist dies? Would you typically read a book that ended this way? Which is more important for you: the journey of reading the book or a happy ending?


  1. Interesting thoughts. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any, but there have been a whole slew of books recently that START with the protag's death. If it weren't after midnight I might write more, but good stuff!

  2. Have you read The Book Thief? Death Narrates it and you basically know who's going to die long before it happens. In that one I think he does it to prepare you for just how tragic the end is.

  3. hi miss jessie! mostly i like happy endings but sometime dying is just what needs to happen for it to be a real true ending like in old yeller. i cried and cried but in thinking on it the story was sooooo good. so i think its about the story and how it gets us to the ending that fits the story just right.
    ...hugs from lenny

  4. I regretfully can't think of a specific book, Jessie, but I CAN say that I would read a book regardless of its ending (and the same is true for writing one, which I think is an interesting thing to think about as well). For me it's the journey (again, for writing, as well as reading).

    I just read a post by MFA Confidential's Kate Monahan and it said that one thing she learned in the program was to take risks as an author. So I guess a character dying in the end is such a risk, and if it makes for a good story, then that's all that matters. To me, anyway. :)

  5. Janet-That's a good point. Kristin Nelson recently wrote that the protagonist dying near the beginning of the book is an overwhelming trend in queries as well.

    Candice-I haven't read it. It's one of the TBR books, though. I know I need to read it!

    Lenny-I guess by saying "happy endings" I may have misled my point a little. I know that lots of books don't have the fairy tale ending, but your protagonist ending (and first person perspective, too!) is quite a blow. You're right-Old Yeller does die. But I don't consider him the protagonist, only a key player. Now, if the boy died (I want to say Timmy but that's Lassie, isn't it?) that would be something to be reckoned with.

    Zachary-Good point about the writing. We spend years writing a book for the joy of writing it. However, if I wrote with an eye toward killing my protagonist, it may be a different kind of journey. (As of now, I have no plans to kill my protagonist.)

    One of my favorite books is Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. It's LONG, but she died before she finished it. It has no sad ending, no happy ending, no ending at all...but I read and re-read it because I want to visit Molly Gibson's world again. Perhaps I'm a journey person. :)

  6. If I feel satisfied at the end of a book it doesn't matter if the protagonist dies. Like in the Great Gatsby, that's kind of a tragedy, but that book always leaves me feeling fulfilled.

  7. I don't have to have a happy ending (although I'm leaning towards liking those more these days), but I don't think I want to know the end before the beginning. The journey is important, but it's like watching a football game on the DVR for me: if I know the outcome before I watch, most of the suspense and emotional investment is gone and I'm just going through the motions of finding out how it came about.

  8. I'm about the journey. Some books have to end tragically to be true to the characters. I like a happy ending, but sometimes they just don't work.

  9. "Which is more important for you: the journey of reading the book or a happy ending?"

    Great question.

    In general, I'd say a happy ending. My exception to the rule are books like Bree where the reader knows from the beginning how it ends. I agree with Candice — The Book Thief was amazing. And I definitely NEEDED to know the ending up front, because otherwise I never would have been able to handle it. (Though it still throws the reader through a few loops. But it's incredible and DEFINITELY worth your time!)

    The one that first came to mind was Jenny Downham's Before I Die. It's told in first person present tense, and the reader knows the narrator will die in the end. This book killed me, but in such a good way!

    A chance to prepare my emotional reaction is key. I don't like sad surprises! (I AM LOOKING AT YOU, NICHOLAS SPARKS.)