Spoiler: They Make Babies

Heaven forfend!

Posted in General Talk by spoilerbaby on March 16, 2010

Nicholas Sparks recently gave an interview with USA Today, putatively addressing his most recent book-to-movie transition, Last Song.  The interview begins, however, with the line, “Nicholas Sparks has no love for people who call his stories ‘romances.'”

“If you look for me, I’m in the fiction section. Romance has its own section,” he says toward the end of a long conversation. Sunshine streams in from Sunset Boulevard. He’s smiling. Hard.

“I don’t write romance novels.” His preferred terminology: “Love stories — it’s a very different genre. I would be rejected if I submitted any of my novels as romance novels.”

This would  explain why I don’t enjoy Nicholas Sparks’ “love stories.”  I always thought it was because they were treacly pap with pain-pornography, but it’s because they’re not part of my preferred genre!

Later in the interview, Sparks snottily distinguishes his work — authentically emotional drama — from melodrama.  The origin of melodrama, however, was in authentically emotional drama.  If you look at the history of sentimental fiction (see, for example, Jane Tompkins’s work, or read more here), it was dominated by women, and it was meant to provoke tears and emotional responses on the part of readers.  It was supposed to be popular.  Ideally, it was even supposed to effect political change (see the well-known example of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).  Romance is one child of domestic fiction; sentimental drama is another.  Sparks seems intent on denying any familial resemblance.

It’s a very gender-defined move.  “Sentimental” and “romance” are now associated with women, even though it wasn’t always so.  Even worse, “sentimental” and “romance” are seen as sub-par, weak, and superficial.  So instead of comparing himself to romance authors, Sparks compares his work to Greek tragedy.  It’s not only to save (manly) face, though.  It’s a smart business decision, although Sparks only alludes to it.  After all, as he says, his work would have been rejected if he had submitted it as romance.  Romance is a gated community, and publishers, booksellers, and even readers are careful to monitor its borders.

He has one weirdly interesting observation:

“(Romances) are all essentially the same story: You’ve got a woman, she’s down on her luck, she meets the handsome stranger who falls desperately in love with her, but he’s got these quirks, she must change him, and they have their conflicts, and then they end up happily ever after.”

It appears that he’s read a romance or two.  Bad ones, mind you, but apparently he’s read them.  If he hadn’t read any romances, he wouldn’t dismiss the whole genre like that.  Right?  Right!

Kudos to The Pursuit of Harpyness for the link.

— First Mate Jess

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