A happily ever after is an emotional reckoning
July 26, 2020 8:37 PM   Subscribe

"Romance centers stories of love and connection and belonging, but it's also about accountability." In her keynote speech for this year's virtual Spring Fling conference, Alyssa Cole highlights what it really means to demand happily ever afters for everyone. "America is the protagonist that refuses to grovel, refuses to admit the sins of the past, and refuses to make amends. I don't know about you, but I think that I'm allowed to expect as much from this country as I would from a repentant rake." Need a recommendation for romance novels continuing to push us forward? Carole V. Bell writes about finding Black joy in romance novels and the special alchemy of African-American history and historical romance.
posted by mixedmetaphors (8 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
This is fascinating, and I've been re-reading it over and over, because all of these literary functions Cole identifies as the romance genre—centering love and connection and belonging, attempting to be edifying, uplifting of the self, actually changing people through sharing truths, a togetherness of people who don't necessarily share anything but being part of the same story, and most of all, the demand of an eternal future of 'ever after', that, in another romantic author's words, shall not perish from the earth—are also the functions of national stories, and nations themselves. It's well known in dealing with cultural heritage that people resist too much scrutiny, and prefer heritage that's emotionally significant, and part of a meaningful story, rather than factually true. 'Fighting for the rights of people they don't know and will never meet', to be seen as part of a story with an emotional inclusive catharsis, and to demand to be seen as worthy of love, is a profoundly patriotic sentence, in all the ways that matter, just as is the natural feeling of being cheated, and angry, if an expected grovel is insufficient. And that's good and bad. National mythologies are full of badass heroines who speak truth to power (Jeanne!), just as they're full of unrepentant villains, sacrifices and loss and grief, and they're particularly full of emotionally cathartic moments of unity. It doesn't take much imagination to come up with a definition of nationalism that's close to the definition of a romance novel.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:22 AM on July 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

This is so interesting, I can't wait to dig into it more. Thank you for posting!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:47 AM on July 27, 2020

Alyssa Cole's books are a delight, especially A Princess in Theory and its follow-ups. I hadn't read a romance novel in ~20 years and tend to scoff at the genre, but after multiple podcasts I trust raved about it I gave it a try and by the halfway point had already put myself on the waiting list for the rest of the series. She also has a trilogy about Black spies in the Civil War that I'm looking forward to. But you don't have to take my word for it!
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:35 AM on July 27, 2020

She also has a trilogy about Black spies in the Civil War that I'm looking forward to. But you don't have to take my word for it!

It's called the Loyal League series and I can recommend it for light historical/romance fare. I've also enjoyed Beverly Jenkins' Old West romantic history series. Before reading it I had no idea there were relatively well-to-do Black families settled in the postbellum Old West.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:32 AM on July 27, 2020

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I am a romance editor and I am sending out a hearty standing ovation in this year of no actual conferences. Love her, love her books. #Romancelandia forever.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:05 AM on July 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Readers might also be interested in the YouTube series Black Girl in a Big Dress, which is about a Black woman interested in Victorian recreation who struggles with her family and friends on one hand and the white fandom on the other (while searching for love). It’s probably too comedic for happily ever after, but the humor is pretty gentle, and, since it’s ongoing (will there be a third season?), happiness may be in the cards.

Here’s the FPP about it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:11 AM on July 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Alyssa Cole also has a near-future post-apocalyptic series, Radio Silence. Different kind of apocalypse, technological rather than biological, but it still feels on point. The first book is about people sheltering in place together and falling in love. Later books take place more in the world, but the themes will feel very relevant.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:17 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I cannot say how much I have enjoyed Beverly Jenkins through everything going on lately. Her books have brought me so much joy (and thank you to my public library for having all her ebooks!)
posted by CPAGirl at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2020

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