Romance novels need a canon
"Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie
Susan Patton wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion column that is so intentionally terrible and goading that I kind of want to pinch its cheeks. It really is that adorable.
“Smarten up, ladies,” the Princeton Mom begins. And by “smarten up,” Patton means land a man while you are still in college, because life gets very, very bad for straight women after they graduate. (Does this advice from Patton sound very familiar? This advice from Patton should sound very familiar.)
“College is the best place to look for your mate,” she explains. “It is an environment teeming with like-minded, age-appropriate single men with whom you already share many things. You will never again have this concentration of exceptional men to choose from.” (By “exceptional men,” I am pretty sure Patton means “19-year-olds who have skimmed the introduction to ‘Discipline & Punish’ and wear pajama pants outside.”)
If you can’t lock something down while in college, at least develop a Rolodex of male alums you can marry later in life, Patton advises. College-educated men — unlike college-educated women — actually get better with age.
“If you spend the first 10 years out of college focused entirely on building your career, when you finally get around to looking for a husband you’ll be in your 30s, competing with women in their 20s,” Patton writes. “That’s not a competition in which you’re likely to fare well.”
Patton goes on like this for a while, before warning young women that if they are taken in by the “PC feminist line” about … well, she doesn’t bother to say what exactly this “PC feminist line” is. But never mind that – if women are taken in by this mysterious line, they may never find a man with whom they can discuss the Bayeux Tapestry, thus condemning themselves to a nightmare existence that does not involve discussions of Medieval embroidery.
Rounding out her advice, Patton warns straight college women not to have sex with these wonderful college men they should definitely marry because, “The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today: Men won’t buy the cow if the milk is free.”
Patton is an example of what I like to think of as marshmallow terrible. Her advice is so self-aware and intentional in its awfulness that it is pretty benign. Instead of getting upset, you simply pat this column on its head and wait for it to resurface, slightly rewritten, this time next year.
(Oh, one quick thing: Besides being a parody of parental anxiety among the 1 percent, Patton’s basic thesis is bullshit, of course. There is no “marriage crisis” among college-educated women in high-earning careers who want to get married. As Stephanie Coontz recently pointed out in the New York Times, “While marriage rates have fallen for most women since 1980, those for the highest earning women have increased, to 64 percent in 2010 from 58 percent in 1980. Women in the top 15 percent of earners are now more likely to be married than their lower-earning counterparts.”)
"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.