I don’t have much time to dedicate to leisure reading nowadays, alas—I need to get through readings about personal jurisdiction and promissory estoppel before I can allow myself the time to read stories about virgins learning the joys of buttsecks or homoerotically charged gangsta-wannabe vhampyre thugs. (Oh, if only those homoerotic shitkicking Ludacris-lovin’ vhampz would learn about the joys of buttsecks with each other—those books would become so much better—well, I’d like ‘em better, at any rate.) I do, however, have as much time as ever to listen to music, and I’ve discovered several excellent bands in the past month or so.
One of them is the Archie Bronson Outfit; I got Derdang Derdang a couple of weeks ago, and it’s compelling stuff. Two songs in particular have captured my attention: “Cherry Lips” and “Dart for my Sweetheart.” I’m going to talk about “Cherry Lips” today and save “Dart for my Sweetheart” for tomorrow—and I swear this is related to romance novels. F’real. Just keep reading.
And it’s YouTube to the rescue so you can know what the hell I’m talking about with this band. Crappy compressed files cannot do justice to their sound. I highly recommend listening to them on a decent stereo system with the volume on LOUD. The video for “Cherry Lips” isn’t all that great, either, so close your eyes or read through the rest of this article as you listen to it.
“OK, Candy,” sez you, “Your taste in music is brilliant and all (as is your taste in just about everything, but that just goes without saying), but what does this have sweet-fuck-all to do with trashy books? Because really, we read this blog mostly so we can blather on about romance novels and romance novel tropes, not so’s you can inflict your musical preferences on all and sundry.”
Aha, sez I, that’s true, but see how I cleverly tie this song to romance novels and the bitching thereof!
“Cherry Lips” caught my ear because of a certain raw intensity in their sound, and as I listened and got caught up in the lead singer wailing “It’s so fun to love someone, just try try to get get over it,” I thought of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and how that book managed to capture that same sort emotional pitch, both from the way Nick and Norah feel about their exes, and in the way they feel about each other. (Insofar as the musical preferences for fictional characters can be ascertained, I think the two kids would appreciate the Archie Bronson Outfit.)
You know what? I miss that intensity. Not just any sort of intensity; I’m talking about the delicious angsty tastiness of loss—or the strong possibility of loss. We romance readers know there’s an HEA waiting for us, which serves as both limitation and comfort. That doesn’t necessarily mean the story is de-fanged. We may know that the hero and heroine will end up with each other, but that doesn’t mean that the author can’t create one hell of a Black Moment for us. The trick isn’t so much convincing us that they’ve really, truly lost each other—the trick is convincing us that the characters are convinced that they’ve really, truly lost each other, and giving us a glimpse of the hell they’re going through.
I’m not really getting this big, satisfying black moment with the romance novels I’ve read lately. Part of it’s because most of the romances I’ve read in recent months haven’t been especially good. But that dark “Holy shit, I’ve fucked it up and I’m not sure it’s fixable and OH GOD WHAT DO I DO?” moment is either absent, or so contrived it makes me laugh instead of commiserate.
And that’s the other thing. The Black Moment is incredibly easy to fuck up. The tried-n-true method for Ye Olde Bodice Riperre was the Big Misunderstanding, which, if done well, can be satisfying, but more often than not just burnssss, oh god it burns. The Big Secret, the Big Misunderstanding’s subtler, less shouty, less stupid cousin, has often been employed to good effect, too. And then there’s also the “Hero Becomes a Raging Asshole Because of Past Trauma,” which can also be good, but can also result in burnination. There’s this sweet zone in which the Black Moment is near-magical and engulfs us in the drama of the situation; outside this zone lies limp, ineffectual pathos on one side, and comic melodrama on the other.
Most of my favorite authors are very, very good at writing Black Moments. Laura Kinsale, Sharon and Tom Curtis, Patricia Gaffney and Golden Age Lisa Kleypas… Actually, it’s funny to refer to Kleypas that way, when she’s so young—but there was a time in the early to mid 90s when every book she released was excellent, and she wrote the hell out of those Black Moments. Everyone remember that scene in Dreaming of You when the whore visits Sara and tells her what Derek did? Yes, it’s kind of contrived and a touch melodramatic, but admit it, you cried like a bitch. (At least, I did.) Her more recent releases are somewhat more polished than those twelve-year-old books, but they’re not intense in the same way. And I miss it. *tiny tear*
Anybody else notice this dimming in intensity of the Black Moment, too? Anybody want it back?