Here we are again, in a familiar place for readers and writers of romance—with someone denigrating both romance fiction and its readership. This time, it’s Kelly Bohan, an intern at the Missouri Review, who decided for some unknown reason to critique a genre she admits to knowing nothing about.
In fact, she is very proud of the fact that she disdains romance. She found Roberts’s language horrific but Nabokov’s beautiful. I won’t pick apart the passages she chooses—you can do that yourself—but I will say that it’s immensely clear to me that she’s not just not a reader of romance, she’s not a reader of popular fiction of any kind, and that’s hardly something of which to be proud. Especially when she’s interning at a magazine, so one assumes she has hopes of writing herself someday.
How do I know she doesn’t read popular fiction? Well, she doesn’t read thrillers—they’re absolutely chock-full of over-the-top description. Is it about sex? Not always, but certainly there’s plenty of sex in James Rollins or Barry Eisler, none of which is particularly elegantly written (sorry, guys) but instead is written to suit the stories. And then there’s Lee Child, who was nominated for a Bad Sex award for this passage from The Affair.
There’s a particular class of Sci-Fi is called “Space Opera.” Obviously, she doesn’t read that. Nor does she read High Fantasy—the descriptions of the settings alone would be far too florid. I love sword and sorcery stories, but that’s probably because they are romances in the traditional sense—stories of adventure that end happily. Or modern lit fic, since that, too, is frequently ridiculous in its descriptions of sex (heck, test out any of the Bad Sex award shortlist excerpts.)
But I digress. It happens when I get upset. What I really wanted to talk about was the conversation spawned by this article, along with something I thought about while I was at RWA.
I don’t have any particular love for awards ceremonies—I don’t watch the Oscars or Emmys or any of those things—and I’ve never thought about winning an award myself. But watching the Ritas, I thought I would like to win for one reason and one reason only: so I could tell the world how fabulous my husband is. Really, that’s the only acceptable venue for such a declaration.
And the thing is, our marriage isn’t perfect. I’m not giving away any secrets by saying that. But despite being a long-time romance reader, I never expected either my husband or our relationship to be without flaws. I don’t want a billionaire with a perfect body and a dark past that he can get over only with me. I do want, as Tessa says, fidelity, respect, and orgasms. And, to be brutally honest, I expect the first two from anyone I let into my life, if you define fidelity as “strict observance of promises,” as the dictionary does. The promise my husband made was that there would be no one else. Others may make different promises in their relationships.
Even in romances, relationships take many forms and the promises made vary from couple to couple—or trio to trio or quartet to…well, you get the idea. What’s important to a romance is that those promises are kept.
I will also not be giving away any secrets if I say that in the ten years of our marriage, my husband has had to deal with a lot more “in sickness” than “in health.” Unlike a woman I know whose husband left her after she was diagnosed with cancer, mine has never flinched from the doctors or hospitals. He doesn’t talk much, just does what needs doing.
That’s what I wanted when I got married—not a chisel-jawed billionaire or the leader of a motorcycle club or an ageless vampire. I frequently hear men say that romance novels give women unrealistic—and unreasonable—expectations. But that’s only because men are looking at the surface, the toys owned by the heroes, while women are looking beneath the perfect six-pack abs.
I feel intensely sorry for all those people who think that fidelity, respect, and orgasms are too much to expect all together in one relationship. (And to those women sacrificing the first two for the third, get the heck OUT. The third you can provide for yourself.)
The only requirement for a modern romance is that it features a protagonist who ends up in a committed relationship and that the story focuses in detail on the development of that relationship. Everything else is up for grabs. There can be murders, world destruction, werewolves, demons, tragedies, triumphs, explicit sex, implicit sex, no sex at all, divorce, massive family dysfunction…there are romances to suit every taste. And there are covers from the most abstract to the most explicit.
Decide what you want in a book and find it. Decide what you want in a relationship and go get it. Fidelity and respect (and orgasms) are not out of anyone’s reach.