Thursday, March 18, 2010

Romance versus love story

by Jessica

Apropos of Stacey’s post about genre, a recent interview in USA Today with New York Times best-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, etc.) shines a revealing light on our discomfort with assigning labels. According to Sparks, he writes not romances but "love stories." He is quick to point out that his form is drama, not melodrama, “It's a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it's very rare that it works. That's why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It's all drama.” And that he hearkens back to the traditions of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

The author doth protest too much, methinks. For someone who has achieved the level of success that Sparks has, he is curiously keen to erect a wall between “romance” (obviously a lesser category) and love stories, and proclaim that he is the only writer working in his self-defined genre. That he is the literary successor of the Greek tragedians is perhaps open to argument, but it’s true that writers—most of them anyway—are inheritors, imitators and innovators of long established traditions. In last week’s New Yorker, James Woods  pointed out that most novels, at least those that are not labeled “experimental” (another imperfect category), are “conventional.” Which is fine by me—convention does not preclude excellence. I understand why authors protest narrow categorization, or fear being trapped in “genre ghettos,” but in Sparks' case, it’s hardly because he worries it will hurt his readership. Indeed, whether or not you can spot the Aeschylus in The Last Song, it seems to me that Sparks’ interview just might reveal a different sort of classical legacy—hubris.


  1. Thank you for this. I groaned when I read the USA Today article last week. Nothing annoys me more than when authors look down their noses at other genres. His comments insulted a whole legion of talented romance writers--not to mention the romance readers (who I would guess are a big part of his fan base.)

  2. As someone who finds a love story wrapped in a magical strand of Alzheimer's melodramatic, ... please.

  3. i liked your choice of words..."ERECT a wall between romance and love." maybe love story is easier to SWALLOW than romance when you're a guy writing it.

  4. Sparks is embarrassing, of course. But I have read agent blogs complaining bitterly about "idiots" who send "love stories" when the agent only reps romance. I know the agents mean they only have contacts with certain editors of certain romance lines and don't want to be bothered with women's fiction with ambiguous or unhappy endings.

    But I wanted to point out Sparks isn't the only one who makes this distinction; he's just the only one who is apparently unaware of the many varieties of women's fiction.

  5. I think it's hilarious, personally. But then, having actually read Euripides, I know that he was critical of Aeschylus on exactly those grounds: that he was being melodramatic and taking shortcuts. Egad, I recognize my long-lost brother because our feet are the same size, and right here at my dead father's grave.

  6. Okay, I'll be pedantic: the actual technical difference (originally) between drama and melodrama is that drama is about kings and heroes, and melodrama is about ordinary people.

    I do think that if you strip out all the prejudice and fear of being categorized, however, that Sparks is right that there is a subtle difference between category romance and mainstream stories about love. It's not so much in the seriousness or gravity, but rather it's just in expectations. A regency romance, a paranormal romance and a mainstream novel about a romance will all create different expectations in the reader.

  7. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

  8. Yikes. That's pretty disappointing to hear. Thanks for sharing!

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