Ronnie's husband, Jeff, is supposed to move out today. But when he pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned. The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie's fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family's lives depend on the choices she will make—but is what's best for her best for everyone?
Based on a real event from the author's life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.
Kathryn Craft Guest Post
The Far End of Happy
For many years after my first husband died I wrote short pieces about our marriage and his death. With these small story arcs I could try to contain the chaos that his suicide had made of our lives. I started to think of each piece as a chapter in a future memoir. It was healing to think that one day I could make sense of our story.
But memoir, which by definition is a personal narrative, fell short of providing the context that would help readers understand the issues surrounding suicide. Ironically, in order to access greater truths, I turned to fiction.
Memoir problem: I couldn’t write about my early marriage without foreknowledge of what was to come. The suicide was so impactful that it changed my entire sensibility. I could no longer write from a place of innocence. I kept thinking, “Was there a clue here?” The required chronology felt like a trap. I wanted to re-structure the story in a way that evoked that truth—and after one novel, I was already too much of a fiction writer to let that opportunity pass.
Fiction solution: If my thoughts kept snapping back to the day of the suicide, why not constrain the story to the standoff’s twelve hours? Structure would suggest meaning: this day and its high-tension, agonizing wait had seared itself into our lives and changed us.
Memoir problem: The word “standoff” implies lack of story movement. How could I create satisfying and believable character change in just twelve hours?
Fiction solution: Fiction would allow me to compress the timeline of true events so that more could happen on that one day to drive the story forward.
Memoir problem: Many suffered from this suicide, so a personal narrative felt disingenuous. I wasn’t even the only one to have loved my husband—my sons, eight and ten at the time, lost their dad. It certainly was his mother’s worst nightmare. And who wants to see their daughter suffer such severe consequences from her decision to end her marriage? In real life my parents were caught up in the day’s events, but the same shock that made me hyper aware of every single moment shut them down. Understandable though this was, as characters, they would not help drive conflict in the story.
Fiction solution: Enter new mothers. To more accurately depict the standoff’s impact I told the story in the points of view of three mothers: Ronnie, the wife determined to leave him and protect her sons; Beverly, the mother who needed to believe her daughter had a capacity for love deeper than her own; and his mother Janet, whose denial about this problems will soon be shattered. I made Beverly and Janet lifelong friends who had bonded over dysfunction in their source families. Fiction would allow me to explore what secrets were moldering inside these other women’s hearts. How could they avoid the avalanche of shame that was consuming Jeff?
Fiction also allowed me to make a statement by renaming characters. My husband’s name wasn’t Jeff; it was Ron. His mother and co-workers called him Ronnie—the name I gave my protagonist. Through its devotion to creative expression and emotional truth, fiction allowed me to let someone named Ronnie walk away at the end of that godforsaken day with hope in her heart.
In my mind, passing on the flame of hope is one of the very best uses of story.
Kathryn Craft Bio
Kathryn Craft is the author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves any event that brings together readers, books, food and drink, and mentors other writers through workshops and writing retreats. A former dance critic, she has a bachelor’s in biology education and a master’s in health and physical education from Miami University in Ohio. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and spends her summers lakeside in northern New York State.