Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Looking For Love in Unlikely Places

When I first signed up for today's entry, I'm sure I had some particular book or books in mind to talk about. But I've probably read twenty books since then, and now I have a couple of books to talk about, but there didn't seem to be anything connecting them. Then I realized I did have a theme: Love stories outside the romance genre.

I'm a hopeless romantic -- one of the reasons I love romance novels -- but I also enjoy finding love stories in other places where they can be told in different ways. That's one reason I really enjoy mysteries. In a mystery series, half the fun is often watching the slowly developing relationship between the ongoing hero (or heroine) and his/her romantic interest. Even when I was a kid, I'd always try to find the last Nancy Drew book so I could see if Nancy and her boyfriend ever made things official (I don't think they ever did). Today, let's be honest, do we rush out to grab the latest Stephanie Plum mystery because we want to see what case Stephanie gets mixed up in, or because we want to see how her relationship with Joe (or Ranger, depending on how you lean) is going?

One of my favorite mystery authors is Dick Francis. He writes standalone books instead of series, but each one usually involves some romantic element. In some cases, the romance raises the level of tension for the hero, but I enjoy just as much the ones where the relationship is the hero's calm oasis in the midst of all the crises. He manages to do both in his latest book, Under Orders. There's something very satisfying about those kinds of stories for me. It's occasionally a nice break to see the romance as a relief from the conflict rather than the source of it.

Then there's The Genre Formerly Known as Chick Lit. I never felt that label was denigrating to what I read or wrote. My main problem with it was that it was used to create arbitrary divisions between books. If it was lighter, fluffier, funnier and generally not as "good" (and, quite often, if the author had a background in romance), then it was "chick lit." But if a novel covered some of the same subject matter with perhaps a little more perceived depth and literary merit, or if the author had more literary credentials, then the book was just a novel without the chick lit label. Now that publishers are trying to avoid the chick lit label with all books, the books that are about young women finding themselves are left to stand on their own merits without an artificial dividing line. One of my favorite books from last year, Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos, is one of those books that could have gone into either category. It's a fun, witty book about a thirtysomething woman trying to figure out her place in the world while she reconciles her Cary Grant fantasies with the way real men and real relationships work. But it also delves into some pretty deep issues about family bonds and obligations, and because the author is also a poet, the language is gorgeous. If you're a fan of old movies who ever dreamed of being swept off your feet by the likes of Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart, this is a book you may enjoy.

Does anyone else have a favorite love story from outside the romance section? Or from within it?


Nancy Morse said...

My favorite love story of all time would have to be Wuthering Heights. For all of his uncouth and bitter savagry, there's something incredibly compelling about a man who loves as strongly as Heathcliff does. His is a love that transcends life itself for in death he is finally united with his beloved Cathy. And who can ever forget Cathy's stirring cry, "Nelly, I AM Heathcliff." It positively gives me the chills.

Samantha Hunter said...

I like the romantic subplots, or suggestions of them, in Lisa Scottline's books, some of them have more than others. In fact, I'm always amazed at how much I love Lisa's books, since they don't really center on romance, but they grab me anyway.

In Killer Smile, you could see how much Mary loved and missed her husband after he died, and while it's not straight romance, I do like how she illustrates her characters' romantic lives. It all works together so well.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip on LOVE WALKED IN. I'll have to get it.