In Defense of Romance

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A friend recently sent me an email entitled ‘Reading Suggestions?’

Within the email was a sole link to a September 26th, 2017 article  A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels by Robert Gottlieb from the New York Times. That little question mark in the title of my friend’s email threw me off, but as I often ask friends for reading recommendations, I dove right into the article.

My friend has read both of my romance novels and knows I am also a reader of the genre, so perhaps he was sharing some reading tips. Oh the difference a question mark can make!

man-typing-on-a-laptop_1218-559If romance novels were animals, then Robert Gottlieb takes on the role of vivisectionist in this cruel and witty review, using his pen (okay, keyboard and fingers) to slash and dissect the romance genre. And it’s a blood bath, folks. Yes, he’s intelligent. And funny. No. I’m not writing grammatically correct sentences. But Gottlieb has pissed me off.

The first half of his piece is about making fun of the language, plot and sex scenes in both regency (racy) and sweet romance novels by sarcastically summarizing the scenarios and splicing together excerpts from the novels. (Was that alliteration or consonance after my vivisection metaphor?)

Take this passage about Julia Quinn’s The Duke And I:

They: Meet at a ball, banter, begin to fall in love. Yet so many things keep them apart! Will he be able to conquer his demons? Will she be able to help him to? You’ll have to read Julia Quinn’s THE DUKE AND I (Avon/HarperCollins, paper, $7.99) to find out. I can reveal this much, however: The sex is great, he “squirming with desire,” she “writhing with delight.”
Excerpt from A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels by Robert Gottlieb. New York Times, Sept 26th, 2017

This is the only novel on his shish kebab list that I’ve actually read (skewered things, get it?).  Although I prefer contemporary romance to historical romance, The Duke and I ended up in my eReader to counterbalance my reading list. I was a bit tired of our contemporary, fast-paced world filled with affairs and deceit and reasoned that something that harkens back to another century might be refreshing.

The Duke and I is set in a romantic period when men gently courted women and innocence (at least in the female characters) was the norm rather than the exception.  Quinn does a reasonable job of creating an interesting cast of characters, defining the historical genre and slowly building the love story. For all the prudishness and innocence of the time, she makes up for it by unleashing passion and connection between the newlyweds in the bedroom. But Gottlieb apparently missed all of that.

Readers of romance don’t approach this genre as a teenage boy (or middle-aged man) with a Playboy or Penthouse magazine. They don’t flip right to the centerfold and get their jollies. Romance readers enjoy the slow build-up of two characters getting to know one another: the banter, the encounters or missed-encounters, those escorted walks through a sprawling estate, the first signs of intimacy, the obstacles they must overcome and yes-oh-yes the sex. More often than not, sex equals intimacy and commitment and eventually love.

Gottlieb the romance vivisectionist ignores this whole build up in Quinn’s novel and unceremoniously flips right to the centerfold. By cutting and splicing “squirming with desire” and “writhing with delight” and plopping them outside of the body of the work, he negates all of that work that brought the characters together and in just a few quick strokes (no pun intended), renders Julia Quinn’s writing as laughable. Not fair!

As someone who will continue reading a bad book just to finish the thing, I have fallen victim to some terrible romance novels with flat characters, God-awful dialogue and truly tasteless sex scenes. But the majority of the romance novels I’ve read create depth of character, realistic obstacles and tastefully written love scenes–some all sugar, some definitely spice.

Gottlieb needs to dig a little deeper into this genre to truly understand it. He could read for example Lauren Layne’s novels primarily set in New York that are smart, funny, witty and sexy. He could delve into Lisa Clark O’Neill’s romantic suspense novels that have self-sufficient female leads, sizzling sex and intelligently written suspense. He might enjoy either of my novels Green and The Things We Said in Venice for their strong female characters and societal depictions, if not the love story itself (or he might put them on the dissecting table!) Or if he prefers chaste but well-written romance novels, consider Outback Hero or Stuck by Australian romance author Elisabeth Rose.

My new favorite discovery is The Civil Wars of Jonah Moran by Marjorie Reynolds.  It addresses racism, fear, love, death and clash of cultures and romance combined with beautiful prose. Or if prose really is your thing, consider Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver: nature, sex, environmentalism and a romance that breaks out of the mold. These might really change his rather toxic view on the genre.

I’ll admit that Gottlieb made me laugh throughout his whole rant about my genre, but it seems he misspelled roundup. He apparently meant to apply RoundUp of the Monsanto ilk to the entire romance genre in an attempt at mass eradication.

Hearts-clip-art-images-imageYet there was one point in his romance roundup with which I fully agree: Nora Roberts is the Queen of Romance. It doesn’t seem to matter if it was written in the 80s, 90s or any time within the 21st century, I have enjoyed almost every Nora Roberts novel I’ve read (her romantic suspense ones can be a bit too brutal).

Cartland’s successor as Queen of Romance is America’s Nora Roberts. And she deserves to be. Roberts is not only extraordinarily industrious — 215 or so novels, including 45 futuristic police procedurals under the pseudonym J. D. Robb, also big best sellers — but her books are sensibly written and on the whole as plausible as genre novels can be.

Excerpt from A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels by Robert Gottlieb. New York Times, Sept 26th, 2017

I won’t kid myself and think that Robert Gottlieb will take the time to search out my little author blog and respond. But just in case he does, I invite readers of the romance genre to comment on this post with their top romance picks and WHY they think they are worthy of a readership.

Love, kisses, hot sex and happily ever after! (How’s them apples Mr. Gottlieb?)

Author Kristin Anderson

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Romance

  1. I actually don’t find it surprising that a man wrote that post, since Romance is written and read by mostly women. It is also proven that the Romance genre is the best sold and the most read. As readers, we can devour one or more books a week.
    My favourite will be Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’m sure a lot of women will agree with me.

  2. I don’t read romance typically, but one I truly truly loved was The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller. Beautifully written, beautifully told, and with some pretty hot sex to go with it 😉

    Come to think of it, that also applies exactly to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence – I got mocked for reading it as a teenager, but oh, it was gorgeous!

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