Trust is an interesting phenomenon. In love or friendship, it’s what lets people relax, let down their guards and just enjoy each other for who they are without worrying about being judged, hurt or ridiculed (except in good fun, of course). In romance novels, one or both characters’ lack of it is often the main obstacle to a couple’s happiness. A lack of trust creates such significant conflict between people that it carries practically the entire genre.
This week has been an interesting one in terms of my reading. I started and finished a book I had no expectation of liking, I finally slogged my way through the remainder of a book I despised (you can see my review here) and I took refuge in a book I knew I would almost certainly enjoy. The first was Nurse Janice Calling, “A Candlelight Romance” from Dell that was published in 1964. I’ll have a full review of that for you on Monday since I really enjoyed it, but going in, my trust level of this particular book was low. I’ve not had a wealth of great experiences with older romances, from the cultural misogyny and sexism displayed in older works and downright rapey sex scenes to unsatisfying resolutions of the primary love story. I was pleased to discover a book that in some ways was more enlightened than even a lot of contemporary romances I’ve read.
Speaking of unenlightened contemporary romances, the one linked above is a good example of that. I don’t want to relive the hell of that book, which is why I’ve linked my Goodreads review above, but thanks to that book, I now feel the same way about Skye Jordan as I do about Kathleen Woodiwiss, who has been crossed off my list for all time, and Mary Jo Putney, who I put in the “trust but verify” category of authors whose books I have enjoyed, but whose occasional forays into rapey sex make me nervous (Silk and Shadows – h/t to @GrowlyCub for furnishing me with the title). I recall finishing that book, but I haven’t picked up a Putney since. I have no problem with rape in romance novels. Men rape women every day. It’s just one of those things that I can only forgive from the very rare hero and thereby the very rare writer. Feel free to argue with me about Woodiwiss and Putney, by the way. I’m happy to consider new points of view and information outside my experience.
And then there are the writers I trust implicitly: Laura Kinsale, Cara McKenna and Charlotte Stein. None of these women write “easy” books. There’s always a character or a situation or some deep, dark angst in their novels that walks the edge of whatever limits I have as a reader. Midsummer Moon is a bad example of a Laura Kinsale book and one I would never give to a newbie, mostly because it’s relatively angst-free, happy and amusing. But I didn’t know that going in. Nevertheless, in a week of intense news from the outside world, Kinsale was the first writer I reached for. But when a scary character or borderline sex or profound intensity come up in any of these writers’ novels, I don’t feel any anxiety about it. I’m secure in the knowledge that I’m in good hands.
I think this is the reason many of us read romance in the first place: the happy ending is guaranteed. No matter if it’s unconvincing or presented as “happy for now”, we all know what’s coming. There’s a lack of anxiety in romance–not throughout the stories, which run the gamut of all sorts of emotions–but in the end. As Sonny says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” We trust that in romance, this will always be true.
Which writers do you trust? Who do you reach for when everything else is crazy?