Roku finally has Mad Men and I have been racing through seasons one and two at the clip of several episodes per day. My husband, who finds the show extremely boring, can’t understand my attraction. In many ways, I can’t understand my attraction. One thing I know does appeal to me is the fast paced, formal dress office atmosphere. The sheer glamour of the show – with the elegant restaurants, tailored suits and endless smoking and drinking (something that would have gotten you quickly terminated in any of my working environs) – lures me in.
Which reminded me; I can still remember the first time I seriously thought about romance characters and what they did for a living. It was in 2004 when Robin Uncapher mentioned why she loved the book Do-Over by Dorien Kelly. Up to that point I had never paid any attention to how an actual work environment looked compared to a romance work environment. Which led to another thought. While we see many professional careers or self-made business people in romance, how often do we see the typical working stiff? Where are the waitresses, the shop workers, the baristas?
There are some of course and I wasn’t surprised to find that many of them star in my favorite books. While I love Mad Men for its over the top glam, I read romance for the HEA. The HEA can be in unbelievable circumstances – other planets, with a werewolf or vampire, – so long as it has an ever after I can really believe in and love story I buy completely. And often, when writing the working class HEA’s authors seem to take their eyes off the trappings and apply themselves heart and soul to the emotion and love story, making it much easier for me to buy the rosy future romances are all about.
Case in point : Robyn Carr has a fantastic hero in Preach from Shelter Mountain, a man who is essentially a short order cook. There is a lot more to him than that, of course, but that is his day to day job. Kind, gentle, loving and loyal-I don’t think you could find many people that are better human beings than this terrific man. There may be nothing glamorous about how he spends his day but the love he shares with Paige is sweet and tender. Moreover, they supply exactly what is missing in the other’s life – Paige gives Preach security and tenderness. Preach gives Paige a hero and champion, caregiver and friend. After reading their love story you know they won’t need much “stuff” in order to be happy. Here are two people who know what is most important in life and how to nurture it.
Another great working class Carr hero is Walt Arnerson from A Summer in Sonoma. Heroine Cassie can’t get over Walt’s rough looks and less than ideal profession of motorcycle mechanic. It takes more than a little while for her to set aside her preconceived notions of the ideal man with the great job and realize that she has finally found a genuinely great human being to spend time with. Walt shows Cassie there is more to a lover than looks or paycheck, and that the things that matter can be found pretty inexpensively. He teaches her some life lessons she really needed to know and she provides balance and order to his life. Their dates are simple – a long bike ride into the country with a picnic, a cookout with friends – but they are drawn so beautifully you can see exactly how perfect these two are for each other.
Linda Howard often goes for the cop hero but one exception was Cal from Cover of Night. A handyman for a living, Cal has been too shy to tell the widowed Cate Nightingale, owner of a small B&B, just how wild he is about her. Cal is just the hero Cate needs though; does a great job of keeping Cate’s business going by doing all her home repairs and keeping her safe when the bad guy comes calling. Cate struggled with the change in her life -from high powered to washing dishes – but she comes to appreciate the decency and kindness of her hard working neighbors. She is also surprised and impressed at what lies beneath their surface in a crisis. Cal, especially, shows her there are many advantages to having a man around who is good with his hands.
Some of the most unique heroines I have encountered have been strongly working class. Ginny, Jean and Rosa from A Woman’s Place are laborers during WWII. They confronted great prejudice from both men and women who felt that a woman’s place remained in the home, even with the country facing a tremendous need for workers to build the ships and planes the fighting men were using. The book does a great job of combining romance, friendship and the argument that women belong everywhere they want to be. All three women receive pressure from their men to quit, with arguments ranging from the danger inherent in being electricians to the fact that they were neglecting their duties at home. Jean, with two suitors, must carefully decide who will be most supportive of the future she wants for herself, complete with career. It is sometimes easy to forget that the right for us to have even simple careers had to be fought for.
I’m going to end this post with the couple that to me epitomizes perfection in working class romance – Ethan and Grace from Nora Roberts’ fantastic Rising Tides. Ethan works as a crabber on the Chesapeake Bay. Grace cleans homes and waits tables at the local bar. Every date, every encounter in this book reveals just how perfect they are for each other. I loved how they completed each other, their acceptance of each other made up for the faults others had found with them. They are truly simple people – for a compliment Ethan actually mentions how “rested” Grace looks – but their simplicity has a wholesomeness to it that is a sharp contrast to what their pasts held. Home, family, true love, and the occasional meal out are the most they are looking for because there was a time when even that simple a dream seemed beyond them.
All of these stories serve as a reminder to me that every day life can be romantic. I don’t need to be a wildly successful self-made millionaire to enjoy the benefits of having love in my life (good thing since it probably won’t happen for my husband and I). How about you? Do you only like romances with glamour and wealth? Or do the simpler tales appeal as well?
– Maggie Boyd