SWG Freelance Dec 2014 / Jan 2015
Notions Of Love By Ryshia Kenniei
here was an amused edge to the voice as I sifted through the box of vintage romances in the foyer after exiting the church garage sale. The man picked up the box and tried to hand it to me, clearly wanting to have done with the messy little group of books while others of more worthwhile status were priced and inside. My eyes met his and then dropped to his rather condescending but seemingly well-meaning smile and I regret now that I didn’t address the censure behind that smile. It would have proven an interesting conversation. “I don’t read those books. They’re all the same,” said the volunteer in a second-hand bookshop, a month or two later. “…you just fill in the blanks,” said an indie writer who, in an online comment, helpfully married up self-help books with romance and got a two for one shot.
“Romance is rather formulaic isn’t it?” asks a poet as if that ended the conversation. Hmmm… there is truth in those words in any genre, including poetry. Romance novels focus on love and the dance that leads to love, and with that they deliver a good dose of hope. They’re also stories of empowerment for women, once written solely for women but in recent years romance novels have broadened to include gay as well as straight romance and numerous other sub-genres. But the truth is still that most romances are targeting mainstream women. Romances promise an equal and fair relationship and they promise an adventure, a peek, like every book, into another world. Everyone with me so far – no one running for the exits screaming tawdry, predictable, formulaic? Most genre fiction has been maligned at one time or another. I like to think that even Shakespeare might have had his back row hecklers, and in fact there’s evidence that in the beginning he may well have. But romance naysayers have the longest staying power and in a genre written largely by women, it seems the biggest criticizers are women. Two out of the three examples I opened this article with were comments delivered by women. But that’s a fact that touches on something much larger than the scope of this article. Love and romance, it makes the world go round and it definitely helps perpetuate the species. But seriously, drop the happy ever after ending or the promise of the same,
Ryshia Kennie Photo courtesy: Ryshia Kennie and you get a love story not a romance. Examples are Romeo and Juliet and Gone with the Wind. So what is it about the happy ever after of the romance novel that incurs our disdain, not everyone’s of course, but enough that it has my concern, that it has me writing this article? I suspect it’s not love that is the issue. I suspect that we might all be okay with love. Modern culture is awash in notions of love, if it weren’t we might find holidays like Valentine’s Day cancelled for lack of interest. And we certainly might stop listening to music, from the classics to the crooners of the fifties to the contemporary someone is offering music about love. We’ve listened to Led Zeppelin again and again belting out “Whole Lotta of Love”- yes, a little more sex than love but how about the Beatles who wanted… “to hold your hand” or have you watched Leonard Cohen in concert on his knees so many times for love – a tortured kind of love, but love no less. So we’re okay with love – maybe it’s the happy ever after ending of the romance novels that we have issues with,