In addition to historicals, I have been reading a lot of contemporary romance these past weeks. I have never been hugely fond of co-ro, mostly reading it now as a break from historicals, with which I am saturated. While most of the contemporary stuff I’ve picked up has been enjoyable enough, I am seeing many of the same structural flaws pop up over and over again in the genre – not just what I select but also the chaff I sort through.
Foremost among the issues are: how inconsequential most of the conflicts are. How trivial the barriers to being together. And how goddamned repetitive the tropes are.
Historical fiction is pretty easy to run on external conflicts, either as barriers or facilitators to love – family pressure to marry one person and not another…the need of one party to marry money…class differences…racial or religious differences…social pressure and expectation…scandal…the list goes on.
But what are the impediments to any two people making a relationship work in a modern context? Basically…each other. In any sort of real life scenario, the only thing that will keep apart two people is one or the other of them. Sure, geographic situations can happen, but if the relationship is the priority that can be overcome with sacrifice of a job or property. So the conflicts that hinge on the characters living in different places seem forced, and those that hinge on emotional baggage (I got dumped once/my parents divorced, so I don’t do relationships!) are just juvenile and silly.
What remains, after an author has come to those same conclusions, are outlandish situations – lying about a relationship so you need a fake partner because you are too embarrassed to admit the truth…having crazy terms of inheritance that require a marriage of convenience dictated by a relative…needing social cache to break into a good ole boy business network…knocking up a one-night stand despite using condoms…having a ridiculous, bullying family that thinks a hasty marriage is necessary when their (adult) little girl gets caught having sex. Or taking thing to the same realm as historicals in terms of wealth – rich girl getting death threats needs bodyguard, business empire merger requires marriage so it stays “in the family,” bored trust fund brat surprised by love, celebrity goes incognito for a break and lies about their identity to The One, etc.
It’s not realistic. I mean, I get that romance isn’t meant to reflect reality, but at the same time, situationally speaking, can’t it at least be plausible?
I have found myself picking up more small town series than anything else, even if the conflicts are petty. But they have their own issues in addition. For instance, how many people do you know who are really happily paired off, in a true love sense? Two other couples? Three? To have every bachelorette in a small town find the one and only begins to stretch credulity after a few books. Even if you can get past the slim odds of that, is it likely to happen one right after another? Doubtful. If the books in a small town series were spaced out more than 3 months between them I might find all those love matches more believable than when 6 happen in a year. Also, how big are these small towns supposed to be if every person featured is totally good-looking? Where are the average schleppy-looking folks that, you know, comprise 2/3 of the population? Especially out in the middle of nowhere. Now, if you have a town of say 30,000, I can believe the numbers of foxy mates…but then the whole small-town charm, everybody knows everybody claim disintegrates.
Also, what the hell is up with the “I used to be in love with him” trope?! Why must every case of falling in love with a sibling’s friend or old acquaintance hinge on a case of puppy love/hero worship?! Why? Why can’t it simply be a case of adult onset attraction? Gah!!!!!
What I think most of this boils down to is that a contemporary love story has the story for a novella and has to be forcibly extended to reach even short novel length, and every added wrinkle stretches the mooring ropes tethering the piece to reality a little more. I would rather see shorter, more straightforward stories with more interpersonal dynamics and less pointless drama. But, then, no one has ever accused me of liking conflict for its own sake…