Strangers on a TrainHow is going all the way defined between friends? Well, according to Jerry Seinfeld if it is a male/male friendship going all the way is defined as asking a guy to help you move. The biggest favor of all? Jerry: That’s what death is, really: it’s the last big move. The hearse is like the van, the pallbearers are your close friends, the only ones you can ask to help you in a move like this, and the casket is that one perfect box you’ve been looking for your entire life. The only problem is, once you find it, you’re in it.

This week I was thinking a lot about favors as I read The Stolen Girl by Renita D’Silva. It is the story of Vani and Aarti, two young women who are as close as sisters in spite of being vastly different. It would seem that Aarti would be the one who has it all – a rich, handsome husband, beautiful home, stellar good lucks but there is one thing Aarti does not have. When she asks Vani to do her a huge favor to help her get it she changes all of their lives forever.

The story of Vani and Aarti is in no way unique in the romance genre. Many of the stories begin with the premise of “the favor”. In Mary Balogh’s Slightly Married Aidan Bedwyn meets his beloved Eve when he honors a promise to comfort and protect a dying soldier’s sister. Chase Jones of Robin Well’s How to Score meets Sammi Mathews when he does a favor for his brother and covers for him as a life coach. In Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams Jessica marries Daniel to help him get a job. In The Escape by Mary Balogh Benedict Harper feels obligated to do Samantha McKay the favor of serving as her escort when she determines to go to Wales to claim an inheritance.

Some favors, however, have darker consequences than others. In Megan Hart’s aptly titled The Favor Janelle Decker’s favor for Gabrielle Tierney has dire consequences, causing her to leave town for over a decade. In The Switch by Sandra Brown identical twins Melina and Gillian Lloyd are used to doing big favors for each other but when Melina asks Gillian to switch places with her at an event the consequences are deadly.

Which led me to wonder -are there favors so big they should never be asked for? I would argue that the “favor” in LaVryle Spencer’s The Fulfillment would be one such request. Mary is Jonathan’s wife. When they have had seven childless years of marriage he asks his brother Aaron to step in. Asking someone to sleep with your wife – or your wife to sleep with them? Definitely crossing a line to me.

The favor in The Stolen Girl is also one that crossed a line for me. What Aarti asked for touched so many lives in negative ways, most especially that of thirteen-year old Diya. Diya has grown up always on the move. Her mother Vani works at Indian restaurants, never seeming to hold on to the position very long. Diya has survived the constant motion – and lack of friends that result from all the moving – by developing her own routine. When she lands in a new location, she finds a small chip shop and goes there every afternoon to do homework and enjoy “the mouth-watering smell of battered fish, the sizzle of potato hitting hot oil, the vinegary crunch of steaming, freshly cooked chips” which make her brain cells spark and “fizz into producing some of my best work.”  The chip shop world, in a sense, becomes her extended family. Then when her mother is arrested and the story of the favor comes pouring out it is left up to Diya to determine just what the word “family” really means.

The ultimate favor gone bad novel is, of course, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. Architect Guy Haines wants to divorce his unfaithful wife. Charles Bruno wants his father dead. When the two meet on a train and unload to each other about their problems, Bruno proposes an exchange of murders. Poor Guy doesn’t take the issue seriously until his wife is killed and he finds himself increasingly pressured to kill an innocent man. This plot has been repeated to great effect in numerous romance novels including J.D. Robb’s Strangers in Death.

So sometimes favors, such as in Slightly Married, are part of an entirely believable premise. Other times, like in The Stolen Girl, I find myself wondering just how much is too much to ask of those close to you. How about you- do you find the premise of the favor believable? Are there some favors which go too far for you? What are your favorite “favor” books?

 

AAR Maggie