We came back to the States by ship as usual. Carnival Lines, which fills its rooms with promotional giveaways like razors, toothpaste and shampoo, added a new touch.
This trip there was a slim paperback of first chapters of new Harlequin Romances by different authors. They listed a website—Tell Harlequin—and a notice that there is now a new series, Harlequin Super-Romance, “with six new stories each month”. Golly, but that is good news.
Never again will you be forced to relax from preparing cold cereal and milk for the family and washing the clothes, without a romantic and simple read waiting for you. With the country failing in its duties to its own citizens and to the world, the economy in danger, and the schools so bad as to rival Africa’s systems, your day can be filled with happy endings. Even in the evacuation traffic jams (remember Jean Luc Godard’s Weekend), you can drift off into never-never land where all is handsome cops and forgiving victims and the stuff of chintz dreams.
Am I panning this series of novels? A little; but nowhere near as much as I planned when I decided to read the promo volume rather than tossing it. I found, instead, that the novels are really no worse than most pop fiction. People love instead of committing serial murders. They speak in clichès, but so does Tom Clancy, whom I have been known to read (often, I am sad to relate). Clancy writes of war and heroes (Jack Ryan alias Harrison Ford, for example) and is far more exciting; but cannot be finished in a week by a busy housewife who is not interested in techno thrillers and would be appalled by the gore of a good Patricia Cornwell or the fright of a Dean Koontz.
This little tome touted His Case, Her Child by Linda Style, Stranger in Town by Brenda Novak, Montana Standoff by Nadia Nichols, Almost a Family by Roxanne Rustard and With Child by Janice Kay Johnson.
My first test of novels started in a college course with Robert Coover, who began with first sentences (it was an “Introduction to the Novel” course at Bard). I have always been interested in the start of a work and the relationship of the rest to that start. The quintessential first sentence is “Call me Ishmael.” Perfect, short, and an indicator of the rest of a long and complex masterpiece. At the other end of the spectrum is Snoopy on his doghouse roof, pencil in hand, writing, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
In these five novels we have:
“They found the boy scavenging through trash cans at the bus station.” This seems to be a story of a charming, handsome, rugged, down-to-earth, sensitive cop (met any of those lately?) and an ice-queen lawyer of children’s rights. He looks for one lost child and she grieves for another, and there may be enough plot twists to entertain before they are together, and the child turns out to be the one they seek or even hers stolen from a shelter for unwed mothers. Would I bother to read the rest of it? Surprisingly, I might, on some day when I couldn’t concentrate enough for Dickens or a meatier current work. I would probably have forgotten it the next day, but why clutter up the heads of housewives with the residue of a lifetime of Moby Dick?
In the Brenda Novak novel the line is “The road was covered with black ice.” OK. Now you know a lot about the story. She is chasing her ex-husband who has stolen her kids and is off with his survivalist buddies. She tries to pass a truck on an icy highway and then… we meet a charming, handsome, rugged, down-to-earth, sensitive ex-football player headed for the Super Bowl who is depressed about being crippled by an auto accident. I bet you are waiting with bated breath for what comes next and who meets whom. Read it on your own.
Montana Standoff starts with the line, “Molly Ferguson’s afternoon at the law firm of Tuintor, Skelton and Goldstein had been relatively uneventful until Tom Miller tapped on the door to her office, leaned his upper body against the frame and gave her a long and meaningful stare.” The guy who will undoubtedly win her “…had a deep voice and… was dressed to kill… His hair was the glossy black of a raven’s wing and he had calm, dark eyes…”
In Almost a Family “Erin Lang had expected challenges when she moved to Blackberry Hill.” The guy we meet quickly is “Tall, broad-shouldered and self-assured… now his dark hair was longer, the lean planes and angles of his face far stronger…”
With Child starts with “Brendan Joseph Quinn was off duty when he found out his best friend was dead.” Quinn, we find without being totally surprised, has “…straight dark hair, vivid blue eyes, stark cheekbones … he would never go unnoticed…”
I would say that there might be a formula to these stories but, of course, these leading men are much as I was when I was young, so that is total realism. The women are wives or lawyers but are ready to throw off the trappings of liberation for a dark, blue-eyed, broad-shouldered, glossy-haired, rugged, down-to-earth guy.
Am I running out to buy myself a bunch of Harlequin Romances? Perhaps not. Might they be readable, even fun, and fill a niche in the needs of women who want escapism without much violence, fear, excitement, or big words?
They are not Dickens. They are far better than functional illiteracy.