Romance novels need a canon
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats. Read the whole essay.
Every week, our critics tell us about the books, TV shows, and films that set their minds racing. As you settle into your weekend, in pursuit of good stories, here’s a recap of their most essential picks for what to watch and read:
“In his remarkable 2002 novel, ‘The Horned Man,’ an academic estranged from his wife goes quietly mad while serving on his college’s sexual harassment committee, imagining that the department’s most legendary womanizer is secretly living in his office and sabotaging his life. Take a writer like this, one who specializes in the surreal, inward spiraling of paranoia, and make him the target of a clever stalker: It sounds like the premise of a James Lasdun novel, right? However, ‘Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked,’ Lasdun’s new book, is not a novel, but a memoir.”
HBO’s Beyoncé documentary, “Life Is But a Dream,” which airs on Saturday, drew in Willa Paskin, who is by turns bemused and awestruck by the performer’s control-freaky ways. She writes:
“The best parts of ‘Life Is But a Dream’ are not the confessionals, but watching Beyoncé become Beyoncé. It’s a transformation we see only bits of: Bey guards it closely, like a magician who knows better than to explain her tricks. We see her dancers rehearsing, her video crew up late, struggling to meet a deadline. We even see, during a particularly stressful period, Beyoncé calmly practicing dance moves in a hotel hallway, and, before another show, sitting in a control room with a group of people who are disappointing her, looking like she’s ready to execute every idiot in there. Seeing the size of Beyoncé’s operation is impressive, and there is probably no better moment for her in the movie than when someone trying to be comforting tells her she doesn’t need anyone else, and she disagrees, saying, ‘I can’t do this by myself’ as she gestures around at the huge show she’s trying to put on.”
Kyle Minor, our “Listener” columnist this week, is bewitched by “Jesus Land,” Julia Scheeres’ recollections of being raised in — and trying to extricate herself from — extremely controlling evangelical Christian parents. He writes:
“It is tempting to read Scheeres’ story as a metaphor for the culture from which she came, but metaphors are slippery. ‘Jesus Land’ could likewise be read as a metaphor for the United States, or a metaphor for human beings in general. Like the best writers, Scheeres offers her characters in the fullness of the contradictions they hold in tension, and with great and clear-sighted empathy, and at the end of the audiobook, the listener might say: They’re so much like me.”
The Oscar-nominated ”No,” which stars Gael Garcia Bernal, was Andrew O’Hehir’s Pick of the Week, and recounts the crazy/true story of the whimsical ad campaign that led to the undoing of Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. O’Hehir writes:
“On one level, ‘No’ is an inspiring tale of peaceful liberation, self-determination and the fundamental clash between optimism and pessimism. On another, it’s a darker and more complex fable about the birth of the media age and the rise of the neoliberal consensus that conceived of all humanity as a market, which swept up Chileans on all sides along with everybody else.”
Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.More Prachi Gupta.
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
"Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie
Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower. Read the whole essay.
"A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant
A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex. Read the whole essay.
"Black Silk" by Judith Ivory
A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say. Read the whole essay.
"For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale
A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society. Read the whole essay.
"Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner
A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ... Read the whole essay.
"Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen
Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight. Read the whole essay.
"The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal
A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency. Read the whole essay.
"Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time. Read the whole essay.