My teenage daughter is looking for good novels or short stories for a school project. It has to be an American author (per her teacher) and — here’s the hard part — it has to have a happy ending (per her).
Flannery O’Connor. Okay, no happy endings, sometimes tragic, but not depressing, anyway! We got a little bit into how the bull in “Greenleaf” is Jesus — well, not Jesus, exactly, but — well, you know how Zeus was always . . . well, you know? (Little kids in the room.) And, see, this old woman put up all these hedges, and she never . . .well . . . (but there were too many little kids in the room). See, it’s not an allegory, or an exact code, but how themes in literature work is . . . what are they teaching you in English, anyway? Go to bed, I’m tired.
Walter M. Miller. I urged Canticle for Leibowitz, but as I sketched out the plot, her glower got heavier and heavier. I was like, “See, history is cyclical, and at least this time around, they have a plan! They survive! You’ll love it, because the Catholics save the day! Well, kind of . . . ”
His short stories are tremendous, though, and should be better known. “Cruxifixus Etiam” is amazing. (collected in The View from the Stars)
James Thurber. Probably actually way way darker than anyone else on this list, if you read closely.
Edith Wharton? She’s great, but yeesh.
I also suggested The Space Merchants by C. M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl, but it’s so dated, I dunno. Happy ending, pretty much. Literary merit, sure, why not. Weird and funny.
I guess there’s Mark Twain. Do you know I’ve never read Tom Sawyer. Should I? I loved Huckleberry Finn.
Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler? Well, they make me happy.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is pretty good, and comes pretty close to having a happy ending, but the rest of Betty Smith’s books are barely readable. She really shot the wad with the semi-autobiography.
Faulkner? She’s too young, and he doesn’t exactly tend to tie up his endings with a happy bow anyway.
Hemingway? Big fat meh, sorry.
Melville she would hate.
I think she likes Edgar Allen Poe, but they already read a lot of him in class.
Stephen King? Apparently a nice fellow, but why does this man have a literary career?
Henry James doesn’t get to be American.
Robert Penn Warren is another one-hit wonder with All the King’s Men, which I was obsessed with for a while, but now I can’t think why. I read a few other of his novels and couldn’t believe how trashy they were. His novels read like bad poetry, and his poems read like outlines for novels. Feh.
I could make a case for Walker Percy, maybe, but she’s a bit young. Anyway we’re living Love In the Ruins right now, so who needs to read about it?
Who am I forgetting? Help us out! Remember: American, moderately happy ending, some literary merit!