There’s a reason I don’t enjoy most romance novels. You know the ones I’m talking about. The boy-meets-girl-love-triangle-damsel-in-distress-ridiculous-character-names-improbable-situation-dollar-bin books. The ones where Lord Beauregard Von Woodhausen vows to protect the helpless Angel McClare from danger. (I don’t know if that is an actual book, but I’m willing to put money on it.) And it isn’t the clichés that bother me. It isn’t the horrible titles or terrible plot lines. To be honest, I really couldn’t put my finger on what irked me so much until the other day when I finally realized what it was.
Let’s face it. Most romance novels are written by women. Therefore all of their male protagonists are created from a female mind. So these heroes, or knights in shining armor, or bad boys with hearts of gold, often come across as more than a bit implausible. They frequently pledge their lives for their women. They studied many years to become masters of the perfect kiss. They call the heroines things like “Love” and “Darling” and “My Heart”. They oftentimes stare longingly into their lover's eyes, presumably because they have nothing better to do with their time. Everything about these fictional men seems like perfection. (Which I feel does a disservice to the reader because no one could possibly live up to their literary expectations.) And therein lies my frustration.
No one is perfect. Relationships are complicated. And love is rarely a fairytale. I’m not saying it’s not a beautiful thing, because I genuinely believe it is. It’s something that is often hard won and should be prized. But it’s also filled with awkward moments and mistakes. There are sometimes trust issues. Fights occur. Bad judgment can happen.
A believable hero/heroine should have flaws. Human beings are constantly tripping over their tongues. They should lose their temper and say the wrong thing. They should make terrible jokes and have no idea what to do with their hands on first dates. Love is funny and strange, but there should always be a sense of honesty to it. It doesn't matter if it's a fantasy or historical novel or set on the planet Garfudomel-7. (Again, not sure if that's been used before. I hope so.) Setting is irrelevant. It's how the author chooses to write his or her charcters, who with their actions and words, make the romance into something either laughably implausible or truly wonderful. To be believed, love has to find a basis in truth.
So, I’m sorry Lord Beauregard Von Woodhausen, but you’re just not my type. Lose the ridiculous name and do something useful with your life. Then we'll talk.
(*To prove I’m not a hater of love, I’ve included a short list of romances I find worthwhile.)
· One Day (David Nicholls) – Dexter and Emma are best friends for nearly two decades before they end up together… sort of.
· North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell) – People often jump to the wrong conclusions before seeing the good in others.
· The Romantics (Galt Niederhoffer) – Shows a realistic spectrum of a love triangle. Sometimes friendships/relationships are genuinely complicated.
· Silver Linings Playbook (Matthew Quick) – Finding someone despite insanity is a greater accomplishment than you might think.
· Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) – Sometimes people in love do terrible things.
· Lamb (Christopher Moore)- Not technically a romance novel, I know, but the relationship between Mary and Biff is painfully true to life.
· Sense & Sensibility (Jane Austen) - My favorite of Ms. Austen’s novels. Elinor Dashwood is probably the most accurate depiction of (seemingly) unrequited love ever written. “Always resignation and acceptance. Always prudence and honour and duty. Elinor, where is your heart?”
· A Million Little Pieces (James Frey) – Yes, I know there was controversy over this one. “It’s supposed to be a true story! He can’t just make up stuff!” Yeah, yeah, I get it. But when you write a character (real or not) as wonderful as his Lily, you get a free pass in my book.