19 August 2012

Book Review Sunday: Nora Roberts is a Liar

My girlfriend and I have this great plan to write some romance novels.  We figure Scottish highland cowboys who are vampire-fighting shape-shifters in Steampunk-regency England should be a good basis for our narrative.  Really though, we are just saying that as an excuse to spend an inordinate amount of time reading tawdry romance novels and then discussing them like serious literature.  It is awesome and I am adding RomCon to my bucket list. Don't judge.

Now, the thing I love about romance novels is that they are painfully formulaic.  To me the idea that you could generate creative writing (a major weak point of mine) through some kind of predetermined algorithm is just wonderful.  Enter Nora Roberts.  This woman is a genius.  Her books are so predictable that ten pages in, just to test myself, I try to guess on what page key plot elements will occur.  So far I have only been off by a maximum of seven pages.  Booya! I rule at this game!  However, what time she doesn't spend on making new story lines, she does invest in the generation of characters.  Not so much that the characters are well-developed or interesting, but in the sense that she creates an entire world of interconnected characters.  This premise that you are learning about the oh-so-romantic family tree of people who live these glamorous and oh-so-romantic lives is a great hook.  Sure the plot is trite and the characters are poorly developed archetypes, but damn it if I don't want to read every MacGregor short story she has churned out. Add in the marketing and merchandising (there are dolls, this is a thing, that actually exists) and well...she is my new hero.  I look forward to the day that  I meet her at a RomCon and fall, completely starstruck at her feet. 

Unfortunately, there is a slight flaw in her books that sticks in my craw.  While I appreciate that these novels require a certain suspension of disbelief, the way that the romance genre tries to make everything alluring is a bit grating.  The recent series I read includes highly fictionalized views on childbirth and raising kids.  I get that the fantasy-land is meant to be just that, and I should stop being a pin in the balloon of life, but you can't just block out the reality that way.  Sure the mystical births of a new generation of witches seems great...as long as you gloss over the 14+ hours of crushing pain interspersed with projectile vomiting concluding with enough stitches to earn you the moniker of "fraken-crotch."  In light of this, I have translated a passage for us:

The Book: "Morgana'a husband Nash , her cousin Sebastian and Anastasia's husband, Boone, bickered over the proper way to fire the grill.  Ana sat comfortably in a wicker chair nursing her infant son while her three toddlers raced around the yard with the other children and the dogs, all to the clashing symphony of laughter, shouts and wild barks" - Enchanted by Nora Roberts.

Reality:  "Ana sat glued to yet another chair nursing her infant son who was ten days into a growth spurt/sleep strike that has had her up 24/7 for as long as she could remember.  She gazed zombie-like into the  distance trying to ignore, for at least a few moments, the sight of her toddlers eating the better part of the sandbox while the dogs rolled in a puddle and taunted a skunk.  Her mind boggled at just how she would get everyone clean and into bed as she shot dagger eyes at her husband who was too busy slugging back beers and playing with fire to give her a ten minute break.  Three years, she thought to herself, in three years I can shower alone."

So yeah, maybe most days fall somewhere between those two versions, but perhaps romance could be even more meaningful if it reflected even a taste of real life.  Maybe that is my hook.  A romance novel about people who actually lead normal lives.  Oh wait, never mind.  That would be like writing a book, like something that might be a real novel requiring creative writing skills.  Never mind.  Scottish highland cowboys who are vampire-fighting shape-shifters in Steampunk-regency England it is then.  Long live the ridiculous romances, and bless Nora Roberts and her fellow writers for providing me with the mindless bliss that only a romance novel can provide.