Novel recommendation filter: happy endings for grown-ups
May 10, 2019 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Things are tough for me at the moment and I would like to read some wonderful contemporary novels that feature thoughtful people, joy, discovery, kindness, and happy-ish endings. I don't need pablum, and I'm not really into YA. I just need stories about adults that don't center sexism, violence, injustice, dysfunction, or cruelty.

Examples of books I love that fit the bill:
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I recoil from twee, and from moralizing. Aside from the above, my favorite authors are Jennifer Egan, David Mitchell, Shirley Hazzard, Douglas Coupland, and Helen Oyeyemi. My goodreads is linked in my profile if you want to go deep.

Thank you!
posted by minervous to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you’ve read Manhattan Beach?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:04 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

When I had a hard go of it, I read Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders to have a literary travel with people who stayed grounded and persevered through a hard time.

For brighter fare Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove as well as My Grandmother Told Me To Say She Is Sorry are both good reads with characters that will bring knowing chuckles and more laughter.

Louise Erdrich’s Master Butchers Singing Club might fit the bill as literary fiction as well, but I read it years ago.

If part of anyone’s hard time involves aging parents, Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Can provide validation and smiles as a memoir. It’s not a long read.

Laura van derloot Lipsky’s Trauma Stewardship helped me get back to being grounded but it’s not a novel. There is great acknowledgement that if you are doing the work of social and environmental change, it takes a toll and is a roadmap for staying on the sane side of burnout
posted by childofTethys at 8:19 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

How To Be Both by Ali Smith might fit the bill. (It's half about a teenager, but is not YA.) Autumn by the same author might work as well.
posted by praemunire at 8:23 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

I've reread Book 3 of TH White's The Once and Future King a dozen times, and while I'm not sure it fits the bill perfectly I always find I feel more positive about life afterwards. It does involve knights, but doesn't go into much detail about the battles. It's really devoted mostly to justice as an ideal on Arthur's side (thoughtful?), and the complicated person of Lancelot. No dragons or GRRM awfulness.

You can read book 3 as a standalone without having read all of it, but in case that's a turnoff: Book 1 is nice (it's the origin of the 80's Disney movie The Sword in the Stone, which is not adult focused of course), 2 is honestly not great writing, and 4 is good but has an emphatically unhappy ending.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 8:48 PM on May 10 [4 favorites]

I haven’t read it in years so I’m not sure whether it has anything problematic, but “happy endings for adults” really describes Laurie Colwin’s Happy All The Time.
posted by matildaben at 8:51 PM on May 10 [6 favorites]

*Edit, a few seconds late: I didn't notice the "contemporary" word in front of "novel" in your question. As it happens, the Arthurian legend is not contemporary. Sorry for the irrelevant recommendation... It's still a good read though!
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 8:55 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

You might consider Dalva and The Road Home by Jim Harrison. I honestly couldn't tell you if they have a happy or sad ending, because the plot is quite secondary to getting to see the world through the eyes of the main characters, whose connections to the US Great Plains, and the historical treatment of Native Americans there, stretch back generations. (CW also for alcoholism and that the main character gave a baby up for adoption.)

Right now, I'm reading The Milagro Beanfield War, another book very rooted in a specific place, this time northern New Mexico. It grapples with things like how water policy makes the rich get richer via a story about trickster-esque folk heroes who confront this policy. I'm only about 45 pages in, though, so I can't tell you how it ends.

In even more light-hearted fare, the most enjoyable beach-read romance I've read lately is Luck of the Draw (CW the romantic interest is still grieving his brother's death), and I found Population: 485 to be fairly lighthearted and heartwarming, despite ostensibly being about the author's job as an emergency firefighter and the occasional tragedy that he confronts. I'm also trying to make progress in Dakota, which might have some thematic overlap with Gilead (from what I understand about that book?), but doesn't have a ton of narrative momentum so far. The latter two are more a series of essays than novels, however.
posted by salvia at 8:57 PM on May 10

Have you read anything by Nicholson Baker? The Anthologist, for instance.
posted by Redstart at 9:16 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

Gil's All Fright Diner by A.E. Martinez is fun and has a vampire and a werewolf share an adult relationship. (Slightly) Bitter-but-mostly-sweet ending.

Martinez has a bunch of books in this vein.
posted by porpoise at 10:07 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

We have similar taste! I'll be watching this thread closely.

Happy endings are hard in grown up literature -- they are too easily made twee. Do you like Anne Tyler or John Irving? Anne Tyler hits this spot for me -- I love Breathing Lessons, even if it is a bit dated, and Cider House Rules is one of my comfort reads (though not always happy). I recently read Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe and that was also terrific (quite a lot like Alan Bennett actually -- her amazing memoir, Love, Nina is also a suggestion, and features quite a bit of Alan Bennett, whom she knew as a nanny to the editor of the London Review of Books). Penelope Lively's work is great for this, too -- Consequences is wonderful.

And can I suggest going back to Jane Austen? There is nothing like re-reading Pride and Prejudice for me in a bad spot.
posted by caoimhe at 2:45 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

If you like Gilead, perhaps Robinson’s Lila would also work for you? It is full of difficulty and trauma but has a deeply hopeful ending.
posted by Aravis76 at 5:01 AM on May 11

I’ve been into Liane Moriarty lately. She wrote Big Little Lies (which I watched, but did not read), so she has written some darker novels and you’ll have to choose specific titles. I recommend The Last Anniversary for a happy and interesting ending. I enjoyed all of the characters and both the plot of the book and the actual writing was engaging. The ending was excellent.

Another great ending was The Lake House by Kate Morton. It is happy, but takes you on a harrowing journey to get there, and I enjoyed the clever plot and character development.
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:45 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Jane Smiley's Moo and Horse Heaven both fit this bill for me - they are similar to Prodigal Summer in the sense of lots of separate stories that end up intertwining.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:47 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

This Book Will Save Your Life by AM Homes might fit the bill.
posted by dobbs at 8:08 AM on May 11

Slaughterhouse Five is quite good for this sort of thing.
posted by evilmonk at 9:10 AM on May 11

Highly recommend anything by Ann Patchett- Bel Canto and State of Wonder are two of my favorites. I think her books are exactly what you are looking for.
posted by loveyhowell at 3:37 PM on May 11

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
Extraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace
Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine
The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker
posted by brookeb at 6:29 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

I’d like to be a little contrarian to the thread of suggestions here and mention William Gibson’s Bigend (or Blue Ant) trilogy: Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History. Gibson is a science fiction writer, but these are not science fiction, except in the sense that our world has become increasingly science fictional post 9-11. They have profoundly interesting characters, mysterious goings on, and hopeful, uplifting endings.
posted by lhauser at 6:50 PM on May 11

A.S. Byatt, Possession (the movie was terrible, don't judge the book) has a happy ending. Relatively contemporary.
posted by emjaybee at 10:24 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Not all of them terribly contemporary, I'm afraid, but with endings I found surprisingly uplifting:

Night and Day, Virginia Woolf
The Beginning of Spring, Penelope Fitzgerald
Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend
Hotel World, Ali Smith
posted by sohalt at 2:55 AM on May 12

I dont know about your twee cutoffs, but I found the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society perfectly charming without being cheesy.

Also a Gentleman in Moscow was loved by everyone in my book club-- a first-- because we were all so sick of the news and grim literary fiction about trauma.

I also found Lincoln in the Bardo really life-affirming, even though it's about death.

Happy reading!
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:31 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I just finished The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney and think it would fit the bill for you nicely. It's a novel about a family of four adult siblings and ends on a relatively hopeful.

And, kind of in the same vein, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I also really loved A Gentleman in Moscow, mentioned above. It's fantastic.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:43 PM on May 15

Oh I just realised that your Q says no dysfunction and wanted to say that even though the description of The Nest says that the family is very dysfunctional it's more that way in terms of siblings who have drifted apart than in any interpersonal way. Everyone is pretty supportive and respectful of each other. I think that description is more just a gimmick to sell the book.
posted by urbanlenny at 3:51 PM on May 16

« Older Gmail app on Android that *doesn't* combine my...   |   Saw optometrist, did I get an incorrect lens... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments