I've often said that I prefer realism over accuracy in much of my reading. I don't care if the duke drives a Porsche to Almack's, but I do care if the dialogue is wooden and the characters are unrealistic once he gets there. But I've been thinking about how much reality I want, especially after seeing fan reaction to the news that in the next installment in the Bridget Jones series, Jones is a widow with two sons, and Mark Darcy is dead.
The online reaction was the subject of some media coverage, and of course a wry Buzzfeed list, and if you're looking for advanced attention before a book release, that ought to satisfy even the most demanding of publicists.
Killing off the hero doesn't go over well if romance fans make up the bulk of a readership, I'm thinking. I totally understand how these readers feel. I won't read the next Jones book (I don't think I read the sequel, either) and I'll maintain a private fanfic in my brain wherein they are happy and everlasting. (In my private fanfic in my brain, Anita Blake is still a poorly-dressed religiously and morally conflicted necromancer, and Stephanie Plum picked a dude a long, long time ago.)
My own feelings of disappointment and outrage at the Jones books' direction, I think, is a bit more than unhappiness at the author deciding to pull a Karin Slaughter and kill off the hero. Certainly that's a good rule to follow if one is writing romance: don't kill off the hero or heroine. Obviously, that's part of the expectation romance readers have of the books they read and the authors who write them: there will be a courtship, and a happy ending.
The fan reaction to Jones' widowhood (and this is not to say that widows shouldn't get a chance at another romance – far from it) reminded me of my own feelings about Kate Noble's last book, Let It Be Me.
This is a bit of a spoiler, so if you haven't read the book, please note that I'm talking about the very beginning and the very end of the story in this section.
In my review, I mention that:
One final word that I will white out as it is a bit of a spoiler: the beginning and ending are framed with an elderly Bridget telling the story of her life after her husband has died. If you're like me, and you like to imagine the characters young, happy, and unchanged after the story ends, the final epilogue and the story of their lives after the ending might seem bittersweet and painful. It's realistic, and it was lovely to see how Oliver and Bridget's lives changed and grew, but knowing the full scope of their ending was also sad for me. I do realize how ridiculous it is for me to go on about how I prefer characters who are realistic, but the written evidence of them being like real humans and, you know, dying, gives me the sads. I own this ridiculousness, and still felt the need to warn you.
I don't like it when romance heroes and heroines die. Ever. Simple as that. And this is complete goofypants of me, because I also go on about how I like realism.In fact, I often demand realism… but not so much realism that the characters are mortal. It's like I bestow the mantle of paranormal powers on all the characters in a book: everyone is immortal. Historicals aren't really the past, because that means everyone's dead.
Maybe it's a parallel universe in continuous existence, maybe accessible through a door in my bathroom, but they surely are not ever dead in my imagination.
Like I said, I fully own how ridiculous this is. But it's true – I don't like to think about the characters aging or dying. I read a recent Laurens historical where all the Bar Cynster characters show up in the backdrop of one major scene, and holy shit, Devil had grey hair! I was not prepared for silver fox Devil (though I presume he was still totally smoking, of course) and while I was curious about how everyone was getting on – I do like my visiting historicals, after all, where there's little risk because everyone is a prior hero or heroine and they all make appearances – the huge jump in time bringing those characters closer to their own possible mortal ending made me nervous.
I don't mind if they grow up – especially when a talented author like Loretta Chase takes the children from an early book and they become the hero and heroine of a later historical. But then, the aging process stops in my brain.
Really, I truly get how goofy this is. I know many of you have rolled your eyes so hard, your optical muscles earned 3000 points on Fitocracy in 4 minutes flat.
I own my silliness. Nevertheless, in romance land for me, everyone's immortal. I feel really hypocritical saying, “I want real characters like real people…except they are IMMORTAL. In my MIND.” But I say it anyway.
I don't like to see them age. I don't like to know they're going to die, even if logically the historical figures are all long dead. For me, the happy ever after includes permanence: I imagine the characters as they are in the book and don't age them. Happily ever after for the hero and heroine in romance doesn't include saying goodbye.
Am I alone in this? The reaction of the Bridget Jones readers seems to indicate I'm not, but I'm curious. What are your expectations of character immortality? Do they age in your mind?