‘Happy Endings’ by Margaret Atwood

A metatext; at 1,300 words it’s flash fiction. First published two years after The Handmaid’s Tale. John and Mary and their various configurations, then Madge and James. A multiple choice of possibilities. Atwood moves in and out of third and second person. The commentary on the characters: “You can see what kind of woman she is by the fact that it is not even whiskey.” This is a text we show Imperial students a lot – they love it. The games we play in the love game. The deceptions. There is something so banal and knowing in the writing; Atwood playing God. The final page is the most revealing. “So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun.” We always ask the students to write their own endings. And they do write – with varying degrees of wit and drama. Invariably John and Mary turn out to be gay. Or mass murderers. It’s a great one for debating construction of a narrative – even though the tone has a clinical distancing. I think ‘Happy Endings’ would make a great short film.

First Published in Murder in The Dark, January, 1983, Coach House Press

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