Picture it; there you are, reading the newest (or newest to you) book in a favorite series. This story world feels like home, the characters are like close friends, you’ve been waiting what seems like forever for this hero or heroine to have their time in the spotlight, and the author’s writing style makes every trip into this world a pleasure. It’s the end of a long day (or perhaps a break in the middle of it) and you want nothing more than to get some respite by slipping into someone else’s skin and looking through their eyes. So, you settle in, crack the pages or turn on your device, things are getting good, and then…insert sound of brakes screeching. In the space of a moment, you’re not in the story anymore, may even have to put the book down for a minute, not sure if you’re going to pick it up again. Surprises in reading are one thing, but when a story hits a nerve in real life, what comes next?
With a genre as varied as romance, only two constants are guaranteed: that the love story be the center of the book, and that the ending is both optimistic and emotionally satisfying. Other than that, anything at all can fit between “once upon a time” and “happily ever after” (or “happy for now.”) Romance doesn’t mean only sunshine and puppies and rainbows; there’s some darker stuff in there, as well. In some subgenera, like romantic suspense or some of the grittier historicals or paranormals, it’s even a given. The struggle makes the ending all that much more satisfying, right? Usually so, and (getting personal here for a minute, okay, a few minutes) I’m usually the first one to go for the grit, but there are some cases…well, there are some cases where the grit goes too far.
This isn’t about censorship; nobody is telling writers what they can or cannot -or should or should not- write, and most of us who have been in this reading game a while can attest that not every book is for every reader. Each of us come to the table with our own preference and life experiences, so, really, it could be argued that no two of us are reading the same book. It’s not possible for author to know what’s going to be a problem for every individual reader, and, even if it were, would we really want things to be that…safe?
Probably not. Even so, there are those times when we’re reading along, all in with the story, and then…something touches a nerve. Maybe it’s a circumstance we’ve had in real life, or one we fear might happen. Maybe a character has a name that is, wholly, or in part, the same as or similar to someone too close to us, in a good way or otherwise, to not-associate that name with the person we know who shares it. Whatever it is, it’s enough to make us call time out on the story and step away for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or maybe even longer. Maybe we’ll take that break, take a deep breath, read or do something else, maybe check reviews to assure ourselves that all will be well in the end, maybe check with reading friends, and then come back, when we’re in a better mood.
Then there are those times when we don’t, or can’t. In these cases, it’s not the story or the characters, nor is it any disparagement of the author’s talent. On the contrary, it’s a testament to the images/feelings that they are able to evoke, that we have images, feelings or memories that vividly ingrained in our minds that they really do feel like real life. When we hit one of these moments, we have a few options. There’s putting the book down and walking away, which comes in two flavors. Either we put this book down, and rejoin the series in the next volume, or we cash in our chips and say our farewells. Sometimes, an unexpected turn of events can color the way we view that story world. Nothing against the author, but, again, we all come to the table with our own notions, and, sometimes, there has to be a parting of the ways.
Sometimes, though, no matter how upsetting the unexpected turn may be, we come back. We pick up the book again, maybe page or scroll through to get a sense of the rest of it, or maybe even reread what shook us in the first place, and we continue. Real life and fiction are two different things, and, though one may inform or influence the other, they operate in different spheres. We trust the author, and we trust that this is a romance, so, in the end, things are going to be all right. There may be some bumps in the road to Happily Ever After (or Happy For Now) but, when all is said and done, the lovers will be all right, and so will we.
No matter how hard something upsetting in a romance might jar us, reading also reminds us of a super power all readers possess. We are the ones in charge of what we read. If something isn’t working for us, we can put it down, cleanse our palates, and find any one of the thousands of other titles out there, be they single titles or series, that will give us exactly what we want. Romance is all about feeling, and, sometimes, we’re going to feel things that aren’t comfortable. We can’t control the content of the books we read, but we can control how we receive it, and how we proceed from there. Ah, the power.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Have you ever read something in a romance novel that hit too close to home? If so, how did you respond to that? If the book was in a series, did you skip to the next book, come back to the same one, or did your journey in that world come to an end. When reading a series, do you ever skip particular books for any reason? If there are certain issues/events you prefer not to read about in your pleasure reading, do you want to know a book will contain them before you start reading? If so, is that so you can brace yourself, or give that particular title a pass? If you’ve never had this happen, or think the whole concept is silly, we want to hear from you, too. Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.