Bizarro Laura: in which a supposedly sophisticated reader grapples with the disappointment of ambiguity (and the satisfaction of Happily Ever After) by Laura

I’ve always thought of myself as a sophisticated reader – that is, able to handle a heaping helping of uncertainty and doubt in my literary diet… strong enough to withstand the Happily Ever After desires of Harlequin Nation.

But… nope. Two books I’ve recently read prove otherwise. Instead, I’ve been plunged into a Bizarro World: the literary novel I was supposed to have enjoyed merely frustrated me… and the romance novel I read just to stay on top of popular authors delighted me to no end.

What??!? This has caused a crisis of not-epic proportions.

Okay, the novels. I was eager to read Arthur Phillips’s The Song Is You on the strength of several positive book reviews (New York Times, I’m looking at you) and his literary-club cred.

And it started out incredibly strong – beautifully written, well-drawn characters, a fascinating setup. The gist is an older man, a successful director of commercials and musicophile, happens upon the club performance of an up-and-coming rock/pop/folk singer, a younger woman, and begins to correspond with her through various means – leaving her notes, email, web page messages. It is a charming flirtation for them both, with the promise of them eventually meeting.

(Spoiler alert…)

A promise that does not get fulfilled.

Is it really too much to ask of the author that the two MAIN characters of your novel actually, you know, MEET? But no! They never do! No resolution! No satisfaction! Grrr. Okay, so I argued with myself: the author did this on purpose, was commenting on the characters’ (and by extension, our current culture’s) narcissism, need for perfection, and general disaffectedness. They’d both built up such unrealistic expectations of each other, and invested so much fantasy in the people they’d created in their minds – it was bound to end unhappily. Furthermore, their feelings of extreme longing is mirrored in the reader (namely, me), hoping for a something – between the characters.

Intellectually, I knew all this , but emotionally, when I got to the last page, I wanted to throw the book across the room. Preferably aimed at the head of Arthur Phillips.

And then I read romance novelist Mary Balogh’s novel Simply Perfect, the fourth in her Regency Romance series where she marries off various Victorian-era schoolteachers to dashing young dukes and such. And it was delightful – some pretty decent writing, I must admit (no clunker clichés, such as heaving breasts and whatnot), and complex characters.

And one more thing: the two main characters actually MEET. Engage in conversation. Go for walks. (And fall in love, of course.) Huzzah!!

Next week, perhaps, I’ll go back to preferring uncertain endings, abhorring simple and tidy conclusions in which all is well that ends etc., but for now, at least, Bizarro Laura says: Ambiguity drools, Happy endings rule.

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