An article in the NYT caught my interest the other day. No, to be honest, it irked me like hell. As so often in the world of critics—hence not very original—the author Robert Gottlieb, had nothing better to do than comment in over 3000 words on the naivety or dare I say stupidity of romance readers (RR) and writers (RW) alike, even though we might be “squirming with desire”.
Even though he’s 86 years old and has impressive titles to his name, his article is surprisingly shopworn. Shouldn’t he know better? Yes, he should, and no, he didn’t. He laments the usual… predictable plot, predictable outcome, and new to this day and age, (semi) explicit sex scenes. Really? How dare women write or read about sex! Have they forgotten it’s the realm of men? How dare women compare notes about how they would like to be loved and fondled. Shame on them! They should be content with ram-bam-thank-you-Susan and look after the kids at home.
As you may or may not know before I retired I worked for over 25 years as a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery. I learned that no matter the age or gender of my clients, they presented all with just a handful of variations on the same theme: My mother/father didn’t love me, my mother/father hurt me, something bad happened and now I’m afraid to do/be XYZ. Substitute mother/father with husband/friend/neighbor and add illness, power, and not enough money to the mix, and you’ve got the sum total of problems people nowadays struggle with.
It might come as no surprise that literature, movies, and TV go down the same lines. Everything you see and read can be reduced to this handful of topics, whether it’s romance or any other genre. Is it escapism? Maybe. It seems to be what interests us earthlings.
At the end of the day, he tries to tell us (RR and RW) that we shouldn’t do what we do. Given that for every 1 book of literary fiction Amazon sells 9 romances, 6 thrillers, and 3 Scifi/fantasies we can see where he’s coming from. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that yummy—throbbing with passion and happy endings—romance cake?
In an afterthought: RR and RW might actually turn out to be a danger to the established male order of the world. Imagine we want what our heroes and heroines have. Respect, a good life, and enough love to go around? Imagine we wake up one morning realizing we are a force to reckon with. We won’t tolerate being told by blown up self-serving men what to do, read, and who to be. We won’t tolerate losing our loved ones in wars anymore, we won’t tolerate that gazillion of dollars end up in the hands of a few, we won’t tolerate substandard wages, we won’t tolerate that honest working people can’t make ends meet, we won’t tolerate that health care only is accessible to a wealthy few.
Now, where would that leave us… or better you, Mr. Robert Gottlieb?
In case you want to read some more romance–with a little bit of throbbing– not too much though, but certainly with a happy ending, here you go!