In Defense of Pat, or, I heart Pat, or Pat is Your Friend

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.

4 thoughts on “In Defense of Pat, or, I heart Pat, or Pat is Your Friend

  1. Oh man, I have to laugh! MFA students are so hard on fact, I can picture the whole drive to “not have a pat ending” resulting in an unnatural, pat ending. In fact, that may explain why I keep running across these UNNATURAL, AMBIGUOUS “weird” endings in short stories I read in journals these days. It makes me go “HUH?”

    It’s so fascinating to see the intuitive part of writing disappear when you hear all this crap in workshop (as I hear it ALL the time in my MFA workshops–which is why I don’t take workshop anymore).

    GOOD FOR YOU for sticking to your guns and cheering on your own inner drive and voice!

    And yes, there is something to a pat ending, too, especially if it freaking MATCHES the story!

    btw, when I can read again, you are more than welcome to send me your stories. 🙂

  2. ha ha. as a rule i hate mfa story endings. so banal and lifeless when trying to reach beyond Pat. ha ha. deep in their banality, stuck in the quicksand deepness of their banality.

    how’d the camel story go?

  3. oh man, jade, thanks for the laugh. you’re so right about this.

    and elka, you’re so right on about the banality.

    also, i wanted to say that i’m keeping my blog a neg-head/critic-free zone, so people who leave crappy comments will find them deleted. because i can! yipeeee!

  4. This has me in stitches. Can I second that Borges and Poe offer perfect forms of patness? Sometimes I think MFAers forget to tell a story, that they’re so focused on slice-of-life surprises. I like such surprises very much, but I have to say I like even more the “beginning, middle, and end” stories, especially when their brilliance transcends their finite shape and structure.

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