Hi! I’m back for my last post of 2017 here on Love Bytes. I can’t believe the year has flown so quickly once again. Down the page a bit, I’m going to blather about my opinion on what makes a novel a great escape, but before I do that, I want to thank those of you who posted your recommendations for holiday books. If you’re looking for a good read to chase away the winter gloomies, take a look at the lists in comments from last month’s post.
Recently I’ve heard many people say they want only “happy” in their reading. I understand, I think. The world right now is an unpretty place with trouble looming on our doorsteps, seeping through our walls, and creeping in under our doors. And it seems like the more human and humane we are, the more the news of the day is likely to take us down like a blow to the back of the knees. “I read to escape,” these readers say, and I get it.
But let’s think about it. What helps humans thrive more—a life without trouble, or a life where we find a way to beat trouble? Even if a life without trouble were possible, I think we would soon find ourselves floundering even to define ourselves as individuals. I’m not alone in thinking this. In The Matrix, the reason the machines filled the imagined world with trouble was because they found out humans wouldn’t go on living without it. They were evil and went too far, of course, but that’s beside the point. On October 2, 2017, The New York Times included an article on this subject (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/opinion/js-mill-happiness-anxiety.html), in which they discuss not only whether we might be bored and find our lives meaningless in a trouble-free world, but also whether such a world might seem “alien” to us.
On a less intellectual note:
“Everyone wants happiness; no one wants pain. But you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.” – Zion Lee
And of course:
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I daresay we’ve all heard those quotes so many times they fall firmly into the category “Old Saws.” But there’s a reason such pearls become pervasive common knowledge—everybody sees in them a mirror of the truth they already know from experience.
Seems like I’ve gotten off track, doesn’t it? Because I didn’t start out talking about life, I started out talking about books. We can’t escape trouble in life, why do we have to have it in a novel?
Well, there is a long, pedagogical reason—all about the development of the modern novel as a form and Aristotlean curves and similar models. But all that really says is if you have a story without conflict, “novel” isn’t the right name for it. Others would go so far as to say without conflict a story shouldn’t be called “fiction,” but I find that a bit ridiculous. So let’s just put all that to the side.
Let’s talk about the desire many of us share to “escape” our daily troubles by getting lost in the lives of characters, and why keeping trouble and pain out of the book may not be the answer.
Let me be clear: I want to escape too! But what makes fiction a magical escape for me isn’t the absence of pain, trouble, and darkness in the characters’ lives, but riding along with them as they overcome it. Had a father who hated you because you were gay? Show me how you ended up beautiful and joyful. Saw terrible things in war? Struggle with your PTSD and show me how you learned to live a good and loving life anyway. Lost a leg? Let’s walk before it’s over.
The thing is, life doesn’t always work out the way we want it to. At times, the best we can do is learn to live with our troubles, and sometimes we can’t even do that. But in fiction, something gives the character (and us with them) just what they need. Maybe it’s the perfect partner. Maybe it’s a best friend, a dog or a horse, a parent. Maybe it’s pure unadulterated magic. Fiction doesn’t always give this satisfying comeuppance to the characters’ troubles, but it always can, if the author wants. The romance genre is a branch of fiction where the happy ending is almost always king, and that’s why I love it. If you’ve got a notion to do it, I’d love to know some of your favorite great “escape” M/M romances, no matter what criteria you use to classify them. Drop a note in comments?
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you all next month. Until then, check out some of those wonderful holiday read recommendations from the comments on last months post, and have wonderful holidays, however you choose to celebrate the season.