Anna Pitoniak: Why I didn’t write a happy ending

Anna Pitoniak on why she chose to have 'no fireworks, no roses, no soundtrack' for the ending of her debut novel The Futures.

Anna Pitoniak on not writing a happy ending

When it came to writing the very end of the book, I didn’t exactly feel in charge

This is always the goal, as a writer: to create characters who feel alive. Who are capable of making their own decisions. So when it came to writing the very end of the book, I didn’t exactly feel in charge. Yes, I was choosing the words and crafting the sentences, but mostly I watched and observed what Evan and Julia were doing. We had spent several years together. We had over 300 pages of history. What would they do, in those final pages of the story? I wondered—would they find their way to a happy ending?

Symmetrically, I can tell you exactly where I wrote the rough draft of the last scene. I was on a train passing through Connecticut, headed back to New York City, sitting beside my boyfriend and my sister, who would later become the first people to read and critique the book. Elements of the scene would change—the setting, the long drumroll—but the basic resolution was always there. I remember typing that last line, adding the last quotation mark around the last line of dialogue. I remember closing my laptop, while announcements from the train conductor blared, and thinking: I’m not sure whether that’s a novel, but I wrote something.

I wanted Evan and Julia to find some measure of resolution—some answer to the question that permeated the pages of the novel. Coming of age in New York City is exciting and terrifying and overwhelming. And their relationship during that stretch of time was rocky, to say the least. But I’d like to think they learned from it. I’d like to think that they changed; maybe even matured. So what did they deserve? A perfect ending, ribboned and gift-wrapped? Or did they deserve something truer than that?

In real life, happy endings are slippery things. There are weddings and graduations and newborn babies, glowing and triumphant moments that get preserved in photo albums. But those perfect days are followed by a string of merely good days, and bad days, and regular days. To think that happiness only resides in those picture-perfect moments is a recipe for disappointment.

Evan and Julia didn’t get that picture-perfect moment on the very last page of The Futures. There were no fireworks, no roses, no soundtrack. It was never really an option for them; it wasn’t their style. But I like to think they got something better than that. They got a regular old day. They got their privacy back, because it was time for me to close the laptop and leave them alone. Inside that fictional version of New York City in 2009, they got their own fresh start. Their own blank page.

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