Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bring On The Birthday Cake

I’ve been picking up romance novels on and off ever since my teens. Yes, they’re not exactly “Pride and Prejudice,” and my father cringes whenever he catches me reading one, but they’re fun. Potato chips for the brain, I call them.

Right now I’m calling them excellent healing tools. Specifically, I’ve been smiling my way through a series of twelve short comic romance novels, written by Janet Evanovich before she reached the bestsellers’ lists with Stephanie Plum, Jersey-girl bounty hunter. At the end of each is the following quote from Evanovich: “Romance novels are birthday cake and life is often peanut butter and jelly. I think everyone should have lots of delicious romance novels lying around for those times when the peanut butter of life gets stuck to the roof of your mouth."

But comic romance novels, or at least the kind that Evanovich writes, are not your mother’s bodice-ripper. Don’t expect purple prose here. No ripping of clothing (unless it happens during a slapstick-y accident), no larger-than-life heroes or swordplay or round-the-world epics. What I’ve found are smart, feisty, modern heroines and the men who fall helplessly and hopelessly in love with them. Sometimes the falling part is literal. Okay, they’re a bit formulaic. Fate throws the couple together by the end of the second page. Maybe they’re not Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie, but they’re very attractive, fairly ordinary people. Point of view switches back and forth every few paragraphs, keeping the action rolling fast. The two fall for each other instantly, often to one or both character’s dismay, which creates terrible, funny (and eventually surmountable) complications. A romantic cat-and-mouse game ensues, sparked with fast-paced, witty dialog, and they end up in bed, in some books more quickly and more frequently than others. One or both of the pair have been burned before by love – some are divorced, some have children – so although even in their hearts they know they belong together, the commitment part is slow in coming and possibly may be their undoing.

Plum fans will recognize the roots of her now-famous characters in these practice runs. There’s often a scrappy older woman who stirs the pot – a grandmother, great aunt, housekeeper, boarder – often named Elsie, who usually drives a ’57 Chevrolet.

Yes, Dad, I’ve got a shelf full of more substantial fare waiting – and yes, a balanced literary diet includes whole grains and vegetables. But now I could use a few slices of birthday cake – multi-layered, with fluffy pink frosting and sprinkles.

Come on, I know you have them – what are your literary guilty pleasures?

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