EXPERIMENT: Romancing the Novel

"With one leg in a cast and a heart hardened by bitter holiday memories, all Leslie wants for Christmas is a quiet and restful vacation at her aunt's Vermont home. But that was before she met the new neighbor, handsome Tagg Williams."

Well that sounds okay, I thought, standing in front of the holiday section at the library. It could easily be a John Irving book. Vermont. Snow. Disappointment.

I will say, reading a romance novel wasn't something that really ever interested me. I've been a hungry reader since childhood, but I never deigned to pick up a book of this breed. I may make great jokes ("breed" heh), but I simply don't read books as jokes. Allow me this snobbery. I also write poetry. Get over it.

However, I am a girl who likes to experiment. And a romance novel seems to be the perfect excuse to try it all, as they say. And a Christmas-themed romance novel at that. Also, after seeing Danielle Steel's monstrosity of a house the thought came to me, well someone must be reading her. A lot of lonely someones.

(A quick scan of the world's foremost source of cobbled information (Wikipedia) tells me this stereotype of the lonely female isn't entirely true. The core of romance readers, boast the RWA, are those in committed romantic relationships, more likely married than not, more likely Midwestern than not. In wikipedia-fact, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature, comprising almost 55% of all paperback books sold in the last decade. For your information.)

After 5 minutes of deliberation and quick scan of fellow library patrons, I checked it out in preparation for an 11-hour roadtrip (along with Wodehouse, hah). Moderation in all things.

The name - Mistletoe and Holly. Published in 1982 by Silhouette Romance, subdivision of Harlequin. A holiday romance with a tame-looking red and green cover. My first joke book.

The story is structured into three quick and distinct acts:

I - Leslie (a careerist - ad exec!) comes to visit lonely Aunt, has gruff run-in with comely neighbor Tagg. Tagg is a Gaston-cum-Gandhi character, a divorcee doctor gallivanting through Vermont countryside in lumberjack attire, presumably smelling of maple and Old English. In tow, Tagg's sprite daughter Holly, who serves less as daughter and more as puppy tactically placed next to men to attract females. Leslie resists Tagg's invitations to accompany him in various wintertime activities (sledding, cocoa-sipping, tree-chopping), probably because they are ridiculous date-ideas for someone on crutches. However, she is undeniably drawn to his quiet demeanor and physicality (Now that I'm grown I eat five dozen eggs, and I'm roughly the size of a baaaarge!)

II. - Aunt (bumbling Angela Lansbury type) encourages Leslie to spend time with Tagg, though Leslie is unsure. Aunt goes on an overnight trip to a friend's, and the electricity in the village goes out. Tagg the Hero arrives and carries Leslie (in a cast, remember) to his house "for [her] safety throughout the night." Peck under mistletoe, followed by light necking in front of roaring fireplace, until Holly ruins everything by coming downstairs for a drink. Tagg most likely annoyed daughter is not a puppy at this moment. Tagg reveals he is not a divorcee, but a widower. Leslie pities him and also herself. She demands to be taken home, where she indulges in a spiral of doubt and second-guessing. The thin, "intellectual" blonde wonders if she should let Tagg into her life, or he will hurt her like suitors past.

III. - Adorable Holly takes sudden interest in Leslie and comes over multiple times a day. Tagg apologetically fetches her each day, hoping to find an opportune moment to reveal his feelings and see if they are reciprocated. Sort of unsatisfying climax as Leslie decides she is in love with Tagg and wants to take care of Holly with him. Flashforward to Tagg and Leslie's wedding the next Christmas. Leslie is off her "crutches," in love, and is "walking again." Not the worst metaphor I've encountered in a book, but not the best either.

We were nearing Flagstaff as I finished the book, a wintery-landscape like unto Vermont. I closed the yellowed pages of Mistletoe and Holly and thought about it. As far as stories go, it wasn't horrible. It made sense (which is more than I can say about most movies of 2010). And it did get me in the Christmas mood. One more thing - this Reagan-era romance was incredibly tame. It was relatively smut-free, right between a PG and PG-13. Just a simple holiday story of love overcoming all.

So why all the critical disgust and judgment of romance novels? They don't seem to be any more insipid than their visual counterparts. Most rom-coms of the last 10 years have been incredibly banal and suffered from horrible scripts. If we read a novelization of one of them would it sound any more socially acceptable?

Beth is a young, ambitious New Yorker who is completely unlucky in love. However, on a whirlwind trip to Rome, she impulsively steals some coins from a reputed fountain of love, and is then aggressively pursued by a band of suitors. These suitors are among the most annoying of Hollywood's current male actors and as they drive around the city in a small Italian car, you kind of hope they will all die a fiery death.

Or how about

Abby Richter produces a morning news show that's about to be canceled. To boost ratings, her boss hires Mike Chadway, a local cable call-in host who promotes the ugly truth: sex is the only glue in a relationship. Mike offends Abby's sensibility: she has a checklist about the perfect man, and she's found him in her new neighbor, Colin, a hunky doctor. Mike offers to help her reel in Colin if she'll work with Mike on the show.

(When in Rome, The Ugly Truth)

Or how about

Creative Director Adrienne is about to engage on a 11-hour roadtrip with her hunky filmmaker husband Jared, when she decides to spice things up by bringing along a "comical" romance novel. However, her plans fall flat when the book turns out to be decidedly unfunny, and the two end up listening to Love Among the Chickens on audiotape and singing along to Cher. Things really heat up when they stop to buy Navajo jewelry and pick up a mysterious stranger - "Wandering Fingers."

I'm working on the novel now. You should read it. As far as romance goes, it'll be better than most rom coms. And you won't have to watch any Katherine Heigl. She is the worst.


hanner said...

when i was at women's services we had a girl come in for advice on how to deal with her roommate who was addicted to romance novels (that she was getting from the HBLL), which i laughed about at first, but oh MAN. just go thumb through some of the romance novels in the sampler section. i was simultaneously horrified and amused.

Nicolas Frisby said...

Depending on how far you'd like to take this fascination, my friend recommends this book and that whole website, I suppose.

Also, she said that A Pirate's Love was apparently one of the most notable … seminal works.

Adrienne said...

Where have these books been hiding? They do look quite enticing, I must agree.

dn said...

You should have gone with "A Very NASCAR Holiday", from the Harlequin NASCAR series.

Adrienne said...

THIS ACTUALLY EXISTS! Excuse me, I'm going to go "rev up my engine" with this one.

dn said...

brings new meaning to the phrase "rubbin' is racin'" (sorry)