A New Romantic

Prior to my internship this summer, I had never read a romance novel. Jane Austen (bless) was about as close as I had ever gotten to romance, but her novels come with a heavy dose of satire that augments their generally felicitous endings. Like any good English major, I worship Jane Austen, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that the joy I take from her stories is not entirely due to her witty, sometimes scathing commentary on social norms. Much as I hate to admit it, I love a happy wedding at the end as much as anyone.

That said, romance novels were not something I had ever been interested in. I couldn’t get past the whole cover situation—some shirtless and oiled man inevitably holding a windblown woman who is usually fainting—let alone whatever was on the inside. I looked with scorn on romances as something definitely fluffy and vaguely nauseating. However, since Spencer Hill specializes in them, I decided to pick one up. Strictly for research, of course. I went with Breaking Up With Barrett, by Katy Regnery, the first in a series of novels about a family of wealthy, good-looking young men. This particular one involves a fake engagement that *spoiler* turns into something a little more real.

I was too embarrassed to read it on the subway, given the cover, so I waited until I got back to my apartment. I opened the first page… and then I finished it. I don’t know quite how it happened, but suddenly it was very late, and I had read the entire thing. Admittedly, the story required a certain amount of suspension of disbelief from the reader. Several plot points were certainly contrived. Barrett has been in love with you since the day you were born? Yeah, right. (But then I remembered Mr. Knightley and Emma). And then there was the disappointing revelation that the female lead would be fetishized for her virginal status, because as we all know, no story is perfect if the woman has been sullied prior to the triumphal sex scene in which pleasure and inexperience are truly impossibly combined. My feminist self was also objectively horrified at Barrett’s manipulations to obtain the main character (among other things).

And yet, and yet… I had finished it. Which meant I enjoyed it. I could have put the book down at any moment, and I didn’t. Because as it turns out, I was happy to suspend my disbelief for a few hours. Something about the predictability of the plot, and the sense of fulfillment at the end, was deeply comforting, even satisfying. I realized that romance novels are a form of escapism. I knew the novel didn’t remotely represent how the real world works, and I knew furthermore that it’s a good thing the world doesn’t work that way. But it was a relief to escape for a little while to a world that ignores the statistical improbabilities of true love and unrestrainedly indulges in the perfection of a happy ending. Maybe I will read another one someday. After all, there are ten more English Brothers books, and there is something so irresistible about the idea of a young man of large fortune.

– Caroline, Intern