This weekend a friend gave me a DVD of her new favorite movie, THE OTHER MAN. (Spoiler warning: if this is on your dying-to-see list, don’t read on) She told me to tell her I loved it even if I didn’t. Looks like I’m going to lie.
I love romance novels so watching a story where a wife (Laura Linney) while dying of cancer sets up her husband (Liam Neeson) to discover her infidelity after her death—well, I’ve got a problem with the b*!#$! Everything we see on screen shows a loving relationship and yet she leads him to discover she had an affair with a janitor ( Antonio Banderas, but still…) in Milan and leaves pictures on her laptop of them together. Naked. The cruelty was inconceivable to me and as a result I couldn’t believe two men could love this woman so deeply. Hey, in romance the heroine has to deserve the hero and vice versa or they don't get their happily-ever-after.
When the movie was over I realized that for my friend it was a cinematic equivalent of a literary novel. She's made it clear she thinks romance novels are trite and formulaic and yet I think she misses the point. Like all genre fiction, romance is entertainment, and yet there’s an integrity to the stories, characters and relationships that I love. No romance heroine would intentionally inflict pain on the man she loved in such a heartless, selfish and irrevocable way. Yeah, they make mistakes and hurt people they love, but never deliberately and cruelly.
In romance we create a lot of flawed characters and torture them into redemption. But redeem them, we do. One of my favorite writers, J.R. Ward, has written the Black Dagger Brotherhood series in which horribly damaged, murderous vampire warriors find redemption in order to make a life with the females they love. This is an edgy series that has limited appeal even in the paranormal romance world, and yet these characters do their best to love, protect and nurture—and any hurt they inflict is unintentional and sorely regretted. Their happily-ever-after isn’t guaranteed, we know they’ll always have to work at their relationships, and yet they try to be the best people, or vampires, they can be. Call me shallow, say I live in a fantasy world, but that’s the life I want to live—one of caring and integrity.
Expand to other genres--thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, suspense, mystery—and the moral compass still points to good, not evil. Sure, some protagonists have a dark side but they also have a moral code—think Mitch Rapp, Jack Reacher and any action hero Jason Statham plays on screen. We love them because we want good to triumph and for the hero to do the right thing. It’s human nature. Hmmm. Maybe genre fiction says more about who we are than literary fiction after all.
There are great pieces of literature that I love and cherish in my library, books I read over and over. On the other hand, I’m still on page 22 of A Confederacy of Dunces and not likely to get much further no matter what prize it won.
What’s your guilty pleasure? What books move you and bring a smile to your face?