We must assume the poor guy lived a long, happy, lusty life with the lovely old gal, for she’s still full of mischief ‘n vinegar. Yet the reality is, he’s toes up when we begin the book. How do I know this? I did the unthinkable: I flipped to the end of the novel.
Now, I really liked this book. And it’s not like we watch the hero die on the page; we simply understand from the grande dame’s later comments. Yet as I mentioned, I was saddened a little that I was going to have to face in black and white what I like to avoid by reading romances.
The device of foreshadowing death of a prominent character isn’t new, it’s simply one not used all that often in romance. It’s a snazzy trick, however, and one of my favorite fiction reads, “Slammerkin,” by Emma Donoghue, uses it as well. My coronary palpitation at the realization I’d be losing a leading protag in that one added to the sense of desperation and hopelessness conveyed in the novel. Still, the burgeoning HEA addict within me – I read it before I’d begun reading romance – was really stirred.
I remember thinking at the time that using foreshadowing in that novel – as well as other devices that add to that kind of maudlin, bleak feel I absorb from a lot of popular women’s fiction – is kind of a cheap way to tug at women’s empathy genes. Pretty condescending when one considers the same criticism sometimes is lobbed at romance-fiction writing.
Some say that the death of any major lovable character in a romance breaks the reader/author HEA contract. Yet I’ve read an old-school novel in which a secondary heroine sort of euthanized her lover when he fell in battle, then killed herself, as well as a romance in which a female warrior-heroine from another novel was reported as having died with honor while in combat. I remember feeling really sad and teary, yet accepted the storytelling “as is.”
Maybe 30 years ago we didn’t need the strict HEA as much as we do today. I know I’ve been more than happy to avoid harsh life’s realities with marvelous romance during the last year’s economic craziness. Yet I’ve got to say that, while it shook me a little, I enjoyed the rattle and roll our matriarch heroine provided in the book I first told you about today.
Maybe we’re ready for a little peek at what comes after “Happily Ever”.
What novels have you read which jolted your HEA comfort zone, yet you found still worked for you? Why do you think older romances might have allowed for a little more tragedy?
*NO SPOILER ALERT: I’m not going to tell you which book I’m discussing because it’s new and I don’t want to spoil plot points. If you think you know which it is, thanks for giving the author the same consideration by not spillin'.
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