So I was tooling along happily, reading the first dialogue between hero and heroine, and suddenly the hero concludes that he had rarely been so expertly teased. Expert teasing my ass. The hero hasn’t done anything except feel up the heroine’s leg, and the heroine hasn’t responded with anything resembling wit, and it all took place within twenty lines of speech. This was the last straw; I’ve had it with hyperbole.
I’ll be the first to admit that in some ways I’m as guilty as the nameless hero above. In an age where gushing reigns supreme, it’s hard not to exaggerate. Last night’s show was absolutely amazing! That is the most heinous skirt I’ve ever seen! You get the drift. I’ve tried to guard against it, but Natural tendencies + Cultural Inundation = Gross, Humongous, Amazingly Out-of-this-World Exaggerations. See what I mean?
When it comes to fiction, I do realize I have to take it with a grain of salt. I mean, fiction is, by definition, made up, which means I could get anything from a grocery cart itemization to Ursula LeGuin. And some of the most beloved romance tropes are extreme extrapolations: Opposites Attract becomes The Rake and the Virgin, Birds of a Feather becomes Love at First Sight. Some might even argue that the happy ending itself belongs to this category. I mean, the idea that life can continue permanently on an overall upswing –isn’t that a bit much?
But it does happen. And even if it didn’t, you have to believe in something. We’re human. So we have romances with happy endings and mysteries with solutions; we have Harry Potter and Frodo and Rincewind (who, in my book, is just as heroic as the other two). And no matter how fantastic the situations, the best scenarios are uplifting because they are credible. So when the hero, on ten-minutes’ acquaintance with the heroine, says she’s the wittiest person he has met, he loses credibility with me. When all I read about are devilishly handsome men and angelically beautiful women, I stop relating. And when this so-called love story is based on an inflated, distorted reality, I no longer believe.
I know there are exceptions. I just read a short story (The Natural Child) in which the main characters essentially fall in love in two hours, and you know what? I totally believed it. But Sharon and Tom Curtis are exceptional writers, and in this case their Lucy and Henry Lamb are more nuanced than some characters in full-length novels. But for too many authors, their hyperbole truncates the character development; it becomes a shortcut to the ending. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes’s suspects never prevaricated. Or if Eve Dallas always found the perpetrator at the scene of the crime.
When an author displays the attraction on a silver platter, it diminishes the achievement in finding and succeeding at love. A mystery has no meaning if the solution presents itself too easily. And a romance has no meaning if love comes too easily.