Since I started graduate school, I’ve noticed a tendency against neat twists or endings to stories. The ending to Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” was “cheesy.” Borges and Poe tied some of their stories up too “neatly.” Maupassant’s twists were “pat.” In workshop, some of the stories are being called too pat. The endings are too tidy. The twists are too easy. The story just holds together to prettily, too perfectly, too… pat.
Here’s what I have to say about that: I fucking love Pat.
I love Oscar Wilde’s little fairytales precisely because his endings are pat. I think some of Nabokov’s stories, in which he shamelessly uses cliched self-parodies, are deliciously pat. Flannery O’Connor’s stories, particularly “Good Country People” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” end in the twisted fantasy world of her neurotic characters, and the neat endings, though chilling, are also somewhat pat. Same with Eudora Welty. Borges never wrote anything over 14 pages, which makes very little room for “figuring out the character’s relationship with his parents” (yawn!) and makes perfect room for pat. Kate Chopin’s brilliance lies in her refusal to bend to form over fireworks.
Which is really what I’m after when I write a story. I want fireworks. And everyone knows how the fireworks show goes. You spread a blanket, you sit and wait, then someone shoots them off, one after the other, and you’ve seen it thirty, forty times before, but you still love it: the ballooning specks of light, the glitter, and the trickling disappearance. That’s what good stories do, I think: they give you something familiar, something shiny, something satisfying.
And if this post is a little pat, I’m glad. That was part of the point.