Looking for stories about unhappy people living happily ever after...
May 3, 2009 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Looking for stories about unhappy people living happily ever after...

There's a certain type of plotline that makes me happy, even if it's a bit contrived, and I'm looking for more examples of the genre.

Basically, the story starts with an unhappy, unlucky, and more-or-less unlikable character who hates their life. Various bad things happen to them, and they do not react well like Job or Cinderella, but instead flail around and dig themselves in deeper. Then miraculously, their life becomes much better, as though the author had finally taken pity on them and relented. By the end of the book, everything that has been lost in the early chapters is restored. For instance, a character whose child has died might adopt an orphan; a character on the edge of bankruptcy might win the lottery; a character who has never been loved might find companionship.

I'm going to list a few examples in a minute, so if you want to remain unspoiled about which books in a particular author's repertoire utilize this device, you should stop reading. Authors: Atkinson, Amis, Bujold, Lamb, Proulx

Some examples of novels that contain this device are Case Histories (Atkison), Success (Amis), The Curse of Chalion (Bujold), I Know This Much is True (Lamb) and The Shipping News (Proulx).

Anyone have any additional selections I should check out? In general, I prefer books to movies, fiction to nonfiction, and adult to young adult. But I'm willing to consider anything, as long as it has a happily-ever-after twist.
posted by GraceCathedral to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban

spare & unsentimental, yet beautiful & restorative - when i finished reading this i distinctly remember the warm clear feeling in my chest, a balloon of quiet wise happiness
posted by jammy at 6:22 AM on May 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Enchanted Cottage is along those lines. I love it and it gives me the happiest, warmest feeling whenever I watch it. Sigh.
posted by t0astie at 6:26 AM on May 3, 2009


The movie Sideways is kind of like this. My friend once said "why is it that the ugly, depressed guy always ends up with the beautiful kind woman" but whatever. I enjoyed it.
posted by sully75 at 6:30 AM on May 3, 2009


Try Richard Russo, especially Empire Falls, Straight Man and Nobody's Fool. Bridge of Sighs is great too, but less what you seek.
See also, Richard Ford, particularly the Bascombe Trilogy (The Sportswriter, Independence day and The Lay of the Land).
posted by carmicha at 6:45 AM on May 3, 2009


Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys is arguably one of these. I loved both the book and the movie. It's different from your specific requirements in that it's not so much that bad things happen to the protagonist as it is that he's a monumental screwup who gets his act together.

The Shipping News is one of my favorites.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 6:50 AM on May 3, 2009


I like About A Boy by Nicholas Hornsby.
posted by davidamann at 7:14 AM on May 3, 2009


The Cooler
posted by adamrice at 7:44 AM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Silas Marner

And if you don't mind a series, you could try Adrian Mole. I think it fits your specs, esp in the final book of the series, and it's also plain brilliant.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:59 AM on May 3, 2009


Most of Nick Hornby's novels fit this description in one way or another.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 8:02 AM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 8:04 AM on May 3, 2009


The Frog King by Adam Davies. One of my favourites.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:23 AM on May 3, 2009


The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
posted by hermitosis at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2009


The following two books by Bujold in the Chalion universe are as good as the first - the second is a kind of sequel (Paladin of Souls, about Ista) which is best to read having read the first, but the third (The Hallowed Hunt) is set in another country and is stand-alone (though the explanation of the gods could have been clearer). I have read all three two-to-three times now, and they are so great; they aren't at all repeditive, but they do each take a character through an important life-changing experience.

I don't agree with your assessment of Caz as an unlikeable character; I think that he is quite likable and admirable. Also, that his change in life isn't a gift from the author, but reflects his own choices and character; perhaps the only deus ex machina is the, you know, actual deus ex machina in the story.

But in terms of a more generic changing one's life story: the The Blue Castle is one of the finest novels I have ever read about changing one's life, only in this case it is definitely the character and not the author who makes the change. The author, L.M. Montgomery, is better known for her children's fiction, and this book is thus sometimes mis-shelved, but it is an adult novel (in fact, it's an "I'm 29 and I'm not happy with my life" novel).
posted by jb at 8:42 AM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
posted by Dukat at 8:52 AM on May 3, 2009


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:14 AM on May 3, 2009


Thanks for all the great answers! I guess I can't mark a "best answer" until I've read and watched everything on the list, but I'm definitely going to check out all of these.

jb, of course you're right, Caz doesn't really fit the "unlikable" criterion. I think I meant something different than "unlikable", anyway, but I don't exactly have a word for it. For instance, if you look at the Amelia Land character in Case Histories, you can see exactly why she's unhappy and exactly how she exacerbates her unhappiness. Caz is different - his problems (and the solution to his problems) all really do come down to divine fate. But I'm glad I put him on the list, even if he's not a great fit, because otherwise I wouldn't have found out there were any more books in the series - thanks for lettting me know.
posted by GraceCathedral at 12:18 PM on May 3, 2009


It sounds like Rollback by Robert Sawyer fits some of your criteria (unlikeable unhappy character has miraculously happy ending.)

I really hated Rollback, because I felt that the character was a total jerk and the happy ending seemed utterly unearned by him in any way. I'm suggesting it because your tastes and mine may vary a lot. For example, like jb, I didn't find Caz unlikeable at all. He's beaten down by life and a bit passive at the beginning, but I think he earned his happy ending through the tough choices he made throughout the book. So to me, Rollback seems like the exact opposite of Curse of Chalion, but I know other people's mileage may vary.
posted by creepygirl at 12:24 PM on May 3, 2009


Also, just to clarify, I don't think the "unlikeable" thing is vital to the type of story I'm looking for. The main thing I want to avoid is the classic fairy tale, where the main character is impossibly beautiful and patient and kind and good and has already forgiven her wicked stepsisters for keeping her from the ball. Caz is kind of like that, but he spends enough time yelling at gods for me to still like him.
posted by GraceCathedral at 12:54 PM on May 3, 2009


Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre has the most astonishing happy ending. It depressed the hell out of me. I would later be depressed, in a similer way, by the ending of everyone's favourite film Pan's Labyrinth.
posted by hciadt at 1:28 PM on May 3, 2009


Movie, not a book, but Ghost Town is exactly as you describe.
posted by losvedir at 1:44 PM on May 3, 2009


Hornby's books. Especially High Fidelity and How to be Good.
posted by Happydaz at 1:47 PM on May 3, 2009


Check out Amis the father - Lucky Jim.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:48 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, just to clarify, I don't think the "unlikeable" thing is vital to the type of story I'm looking for. The main thing I want to avoid is the classic fairy tale, where the main character is impossibly beautiful and patient and kind and good and has already forgiven her wicked stepsisters for keeping her from the ball. Caz is kind of like that, but he spends enough time yelling at gods for me to still like him.
posted by GraceCathedral at 3:54 PM on May 3 [+] [!]


Ah, that makes a lot of sense. In that case, I second my own recommendation of The Blue Castle, which is all about the plain girl finally losing her patience. (She is definitely pissed about missing the ball).

Also, you might like a lot of the modern rewriting of fairy tales, like Robin McKinley's Beauty: it's Beauty and the Beast as Disney would never have imagined it, with a gawky, acne-ridden, rather stubborn heroine. The only sweetness in the story is in her two sisters. The Unlikely Ones by Mary Brown is a stand alone fantasy novel, about 7 cursed creatures - four animals, two humans and a unicorn; it's another one with a impatient, struggling, even deformed heroine (called Thing).
posted by jb at 4:00 PM on May 3, 2009


The Host.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:55 PM on May 3, 2009


Lonesome Jim would fit your criteria pretty closely, I think (aside from being a movie, anyway).

Also, to a lesser extent, Hal Hartley's Trust.
posted by bricoleur at 7:14 PM on May 3, 2009


Thanks for clarifying. I think I understand a little better what you're looking for, and I have a better recommendation: Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. She's described it as "a sentimental Victorian novel about dragons that eat other" and it has some non-saintly characters who get their improbable happy ending. I liked it a lot.
posted by creepygirl at 7:16 PM on May 3, 2009


Movie-wise I think of:

-Stranger than Fiction
-Wristcutters: A Love Story
-Amelie

I can't think of any books that haven't been mentioned, though.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2009


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