Are you a Happy Holidayer? I suspect I’m the token Grinch among the Ladies. While my fellow bloggesses are decorating their homes with emotionally significant ornaments, baking seasonal treats, and recommending feelgood stories, I’m counting the days till it’s all over.
This week we’ve been chatting among ourselves about the Hallmark Channel’s holiday programming, aided and abetted by this article from slate.com, and this review of A Princess for Christmas (Sam Heughan!) on smartbitchestrashybooks.com. I have to confess that even reading these intelligent and amusing pieces sent me screaming in search of Dorothy Parker, or Saki, or EF Benson.
Our discussion did, however, make me examine why Christmas stories make me froth at the mouth. It’s not intellectual snobbery or political correctness. I love genre romance. I adore fantasy and fairy tales. I seek out happy endings, and I’m a sucker for community. I prefer tales told with intelligence and wit, but while that might rule out some of the more saccharine offerings, it should still leave me open to classics like Michaeline’s suggestion, Christmas in Conneticut. Nope, not even that.
I always thought I read romance for the kindness, the community and the hit of happy. This week I realized there’s another huge reason: many romances (and all the ones I love best) involve defying expectations and resisting peer pressure.
Contemporary romance? Bet Me, Jenny Crusie’s best-loved book, has a heroine whose mother browbeats her relentlessly about her voluptuous figure and enjoyment of food, and a hero whose family shame him as a failure because he refused to become a lawyer and join the family firm. Crazy For You stars a small-town heroine who decides to break up with the local football coach/community good guy, and most of the town conspires to hamper her efforts to free herself.
Historical romance? Pride and Prejudice, of course: Darcy and Lizzy confound the expectations of society and their families to find true happiness and inspire thousands of society-defying Dukes and Governesses, Earls and ServingMaids, or Marquesses and Courtesans. Not to mention Highlanders and noble English lasses.
Paranormal romance? Usually it’s an inter-species problem, or a wholly unacceptable immortal-and-human relationship. Facing down community disapproval is as powerful as overcoming cultural misunderstanding. Twilight. Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunters.
Romantic suspense? Undercover cop and Mafia princess. Marine and kid sister of his best friend.
These kind of storylines are my catnip. I couldn’t tell you whether it’s nature, nurture, or both, but in my personal life I strongly dislike being told what to do and I loathe the idea that I should do anything simply because people expect it. I’ll give to charity all year round on my own terms, but please don’t instruct me to put on a silly costume for a national once-a-year telethon because everyone’s doing it. Turkey and carols on Christmas Day? No, thank you. Cards and gifts on Valentine’s Day? Not a chance. White dress and a veil for my wedding? What do you think?
So I’m thinking that my problem with these harmless holiday hits of happy is that they reward characters for conforming to expectation. You might call it celebrating tradition. I’m not convinced. The characters discover that the conventional choice is the route to true happiness, which is the opposite of the romance storylines I love.
It’s not about one lifestyle being better than another. I’m thrilled if the career girl decides to give up her highly paid job in favor of growing roses as long as that’s what she truly wants to do. If she’s under severe pressure from her boss and co-workers to stay in the city and keep the company afloat but she dreams of mulch and dead-heading, then going home would be the convention-defying choice. I’ll be right beside her when she sells her fancy apartment and takes the bus back to the farm.
What do you think? Am I on to something, or just being a Holiday Humbug?
And if you have any suggestions for excellent nonconformist romance, I’d love to hear ‘em. I’ll need a new book or ten to get me through the rest of this year 😉