By Justin Aquino…
Happy Endings, written by Kevin Canty, details how a person can think differently once they have gone through several experiences. McHenry, the main character, goes from a much more secluded life to one where he is no longer afraid to express his inner desires.
McHenry realized that maybe his life has finally taken a change. Perhaps one he was not anticipating. Firstly, the two people he loves the most are no longer in his life. Well, at least of one those people no longer are; his wife (who died of cancer) and his daughter, who moved away from McHenry and is now in a foreign country. Secondly, McHenry was forced to stop working due to difficulties with continuing his business:
“[…] one afternoon, when he got off the phone with Gib Gustafson, […], telling him that they weren’t going to be able to do business – […]. By five that afternoon he was out of business, rig sold, trucks sold, FOR RENT sign on the shop (33)”.
Feeling deserted and destroyed, McHenry considers that maybe he should spend the rest of his days just relaxing. He remembers overhearing one of his co-workers talking about having sexual interactions with the workers at an Asian massage parlor. After a few months on hesitating if he should go or not, McHenry finally decides to go. He pays for his session and starts to get massaged. After which, the employee exchanged sexual favors for money with McHenry. A thought clicked with him: he actually enjoyed it. He went a second time. The same thing occurred. Finally, he came to the conclusion that maybe there was actually nothing wrong with fulfilling theses pleasures. He later goes to a Christian Singles group meeting and finds more incentive to further pursue his pleasures after learning about the true behaviors of the members. Once he comes and leaves the massage parlor for a third time, McHenry feels like a new man, a free man.
The manner in which Happy Endings has McHenry evolving as a person is actually quite intriguing, as he goes through a progressive character development. We slowly see him break out of his shell and become more comfortable in his own skin. In the beginning, he seems as if he was dependent on people to serve. But after losing the people that meant the most to him, he becomes much lonelier and has to come to face with reality:
“So he learned to look like he was working when he worked. […] act like a father when his daughter was around, to look like a husband when Marnie needed a husband. He did what people expected him to or maybe a little more. He always tried for more (33)”.
“Marnie had gone five years before, a pancreatic cancer that burned so swiftly through her that McHenry never felt it until she was buried (32)”.
“Then Carolyn, […], had ended up in Guangzhou China. This too felt unlikely. […]. They Skyped […] but it was nothing like having her around, just a picture on a computer screen (32-33)”.
It shows an excellent portrayal of someone who seems lost after experience some very disappointing events and not sure about how he should live his life anymore. After he stops working and remembering hearing about this strange massage parlor, “McHenry lived with these thoughts for two or three months and then decided he needed to go to Billings […] it took him another few weeks to gather his nerve. It was April before he made it (34)”. It shows how he is willing to take the first step into this transition. After the first visit to the massage parlor, we see him breaking out of his usual comfort zone and he did not seem to mind it:
“He unfolded his pants, found his wallet, gave her a twenty and then another. He would have stood there handing her twenties all night if she had wanted him to (36)”.
During his second visit is when the main message of Happy Endings really first appears. It is an important scene because we see that McHenry, exiting the parlor, has an epiphany where he questions why he should be worried about the stigma around his actions:
“What if this was not wrong? […]. He wasn’t a cheater. […], he couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. He wasn’t stealing tenderness from anybody or spending someone else’s money. […], he knew he wouldn’t want to get caught doing this. […]. But he couldn’t figure out who was being hurt. (38)”.
The scene where he goes to the Christian Singles meeting is important as this gives him justification to continue going to the parlor, during a certain point in the conversation with a woman named Adele Baker as well:
“You and she are the only two new faces since last summer. I believe that almost everybody else has dated almost everybody else. And by dated I don’t mean dated. Don’t be shocked.
I thought these were the Christian Singles.
We’re all Christian and we’re all single, but we’re not always both at the same time (39-40)”
These Christians are disobeying their holy rules (in the bible; it is a sin to have sex before marriage). This shows to McHenry that he should not worry about the criticism of others, if these Christians are going to break a law in their holy book.
While exiting from his third visit to the massage parlor, we are presented with one of the most important scenes in the story, as we finally see McHenry free:
“And then he was standing, blinking in the warm sunlight, […]. […], spring had come. It was actually warm. […]. He […] closed his eyes and felt the sunlight pouring down on his skin, another gift in a world of gifts. […]. Somebody might see him. It didn’t matter. His life was about to change (43)”.
In this moment, McHenry has now reached a level of self-fulfillment so high that he is no long afraid to express the fact that if he wants to satisfy his needs, he will simply do so. He is no longer worried if anyone catches him in the act. The transition to spring may be a metaphor for his evolution from a more civil and quiet man to someone who feels finally happy. The bright and colorful imagery can be a symbol for the state he is now in. He is truly liberated.
In conclusion, I personally thought that this was an amazing short story. It presents well enough descriptions of the characters and the manner in which we see the protagonist develop into his true self grips the reader to continue reading in order to see for them how he changes. It also brings up an interesting question for the readers to ask themselves: “Should we conceal our own basic needs of self-fulfillment or is it better to hide them”? My one main criticism is that I feel that the scene where both McHenry and Adele go bird watching was a very uneventful and meaningless section. It did not add anything important that would have contributed to the growth of McHenry’s character. It was quite a filler part. Besides that, however, it was a very deep and interesting story.