27 January 2011


It snowed like crazy again here last night, but I still plan to trudge my way up to WORD (oh-so-soon to be my neighborhood bookstore!) to attend the launch party for Eloisa James's When Beauty Tamed the Beast, where there will be champagne and cupcakes and (I suspect) the marvelous conviviality of estrogen. It's gonna be off the hook, as the kids say. Though they probably don't still say that.

Remember when I read Beyond Heaving Bosoms, and it was the most hilarious thing I'd read in ages? It also got me curious about romance novels again--I was definitely mistaken in that previous post about not having read a romance novel cover to cover, because I read several by Rebecca Brandewyne when I interviewed her for The Shocker (Wichita State's alumni magazine. The school mascot is an angry shock of wheat, so get your mind out of the gutter) back in '04. (You should read that article: my first, and to date only, cover story; I'm still super proud of it.) Her novels--especially the early ones I read, No Gentle Love and Heartland--were pretty much (as the Smart Bitches would say) rapetastic, but I liked them nonetheless.

Returning to the present: it was my aforementioned high school bestie, now a romance novelist herself, sent me the link to tonight's event on Facebook with a note boiling down to DO EEEET! Ms. James is one of her all-time faves, so I'm totally willing to fetch her a signed copy; and because I like to have read something by an author before I go to their event (a quirk that has undoubtedly made me miss some great events, mea culpa), I asked Theresa for suggestions and checked out A Kiss at Midnight and Desperate Duchesses. And I loved both of them!! The first, as the title implies, is a riff on the Cinderella story, complete with wicked stepmother and glass slippers (made, ingeniously, out of see-through stiffened taffeta); the second's the first in a series that I must get more of, set in Georgian England, and OMG SO RACY! There's strip dominoes! And sex in a boat!!!!!

I shan't bore you with more of my yammering about the bullshit distinction between "genre" and Serious Literary Fiction (anyway, Caroline Leavitt says it much better than I), but here's throwing my two cents in the ring about why romance is so sneered at (Hell, my D&D group looked a bit askance at Kiss at Midnight when I pulled it out on the subway. After we'd spent the whole evening fighting monsters with dice.). Besides, obvy, that it's mostly read by ladies--and OMG those ladies right? With their rotten taste, and their going to the bathroom in packs?--I feel there's a prevailing concept in the culture that in high art (movies or novels) that prides itself on Realism, sex must be bad sex. Either poorly executed, or suffused with melancholy, or angry or demeaning or violent or all of the above. It's rare for a sex scene to feature partners who genuinely like and care about each other and who both enjoy the encounter wholeheartedly, unless (as in the current wouldn't-watch-it-if-you-paid-me critical darling Blue Valentine) it's to serves as counterpoint for disintegration and misery down the line.

And yet I'd wager most sex isn't like this--starry-eyed, perhaps, but I think the kind of mutual, emotionally and physically satisfying sex that's Romance's stock in trade is much closer to the sex most couples have in this world, and always have. Sure, the trappings are fantasy--fabulous gowns! dashing dukes!--but the heart and the infatuation and the rush of falling in love all ring completely true for me. I think it's a valuable service the romance genre does for all of us: keeping good sex alive in fiction. And turning out sexy, fun books I, for one, am not ashamed to enjoy.

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