Recently, AAR’s Maggie Boyd reviewed the book Starlight on Willow Lake, and one of the reasons it received a C- from her was the unrealistic depiction of the heroine’s career. This got me thinking about romances and careers. We are all (mostly!) experts on our own day jobs, from stay-at-home parenting to freelance journalism to brain surgery, and seeing our lives depicted inaccurately can be very jarring in a book.
For me, as a historian, I was never able to get into Lauren Willig. I tried The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, which includes a plot in the past running opposite modern historians doing research, and it didn’t look like history at all. While her researchers were reconstructing individual conversations (if I recall, and it was years ago, they happened to be recorded in a diary), I was in the middle of a project trying to find out if a woman I was researching had four children or five, and what years they were born. The level of specificity of the Willig sources (written by people theoretically spying, who shouldn’t have written things down!) felt just absurd. I don’t know if her later books change this, or even if that book improved by the end, because I DNFed it.
I had the same problem with a non-romance, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, because her characters were reading old sources at a rate that matched the unfolding of the plot. A letter (again, it was years ago, so it might have been a diary entry) would talk about Turkey, so they’d go there, then read the next letter, which talked about Romania, or whatever… it was ridiculous. Real people would have read all the letters before setting out anywhere. The only reason they didn’t is that later letters revealed plot points, so the author had to force them to happen later in the book. It annoyed me so much that the book was another DNF even though her writing was marvelous.
I asked AAR staffers to weigh in with how their professional lives affected their romance reading.
Maggie elaborated on her Starlight on Willow Lake critique: As someone who works in and employs people for the home health industry I found the description of Faith McCallum’s job completely improbable…. the heroine is lauded for her work in the field, has excellent references and yet is out of work for three months. It’s dependent on location of course but few home health workers have problems finding jobs. It’s a low paying field with taxing work; we are normally begging for employees. Most agencies I know keep a “Help Wanted” ad running year around because help really is always wanted. I also found it awkward that Faith treated Mason