Madame Bovary could also do with some cheering up. How about this: Emma marries Charles, a terrifically entertaining and virile country doctor, they have eight children, someone invents Prozac, Emma buys an Aga and wins first prize for home baking at Yonville agricultural fair.Heh.
Why stop there? Macbeth is much too depressing. In my version the gentle, unassuming and monosyllabic thane settles down at Cawdor, where Lady Macbeth develops a profitable line in soap that leaves the hands spotless. Hamlet finds a shrink, marries Ophelia and goes into insurance. In the revised A Farewell to Arms, Catherine has a fat and healthy baby, and she and Henry establish a successful pacifist ski resort in the Alps.
Godot finally turns up.
As much as I'm continually on the search for good, funny books, I think I fall into the tiny camp of readers (one in fifty, apparently) whom Macintyre identifies who like stories that are on the sad side. When I think about some of the most powerful books I've enjoyed -- Where the Red Fern Grows, Not Wanted on the Voyage, A Thousand Acres, Anna Karenina, Horton Hears a Who -- most of them are of the tear-jerking variety. In fact, all of these books are notable for having made me cry like a schoolgirl. Although Horton ends happily, at least.
I wonder why it is that so many of us feel such discomfort at being moved to tears by books. Is it embarrassment at having one's weaknesses revealed by mere words on a page? Is it that we just don't like feeling sad? Or is it, as my great friend Schimpky once stated emphatically, that we don't like feeling manipulated by books?
Let me tell you about the time a book got to me the most. It was more than ten years ago. I was reading James Agee's A Death in the Family, a deceptively simple novel about the death of an ordinary man, and how it affects his wife and children. The story starts with the death, which takes place far from the man's home. Men are dispatched to travel to his house and tell his family. It's late at night. His wife, who has been sitting up waiting for him to come home, already suspects that something bad has happened, but she remains quiet and strong. The men arrive and tell her. She is utterly devastated, but holds on to her dignity by her fingernails. In the morning, she must tell her children.
That's as far as I've ever gotten with this book. I started it in bed late one night, and by the time I put it down -- forever, it would seem -- tears were POURING down my face and I was choking down my sobs so as not to wake up Rusty.
Dude, I'm getting a huge lump in my throat right now just thinking about it. And I'm not a crybaby. Well, not that much of a crybaby, anyway.
Still, I consider this book one of the best, most affecting novels I've ever (almost) read. The Pulitzer folks clearly agreed with me, because they honoured the heck out of it in 1958, the year it was published. Strange, though, that such a stirring book has ended up pretty much forgotten by later generations. Or I guess, if Ben Macintyre is correct and all we want are feel-good endings to our stories, maybe this isn't such a surprise after all.