Why is it so hard to write about love?
By Alan Elsner Author of Romance Language
Author Carol Shields writes in her novel, Republic of Love (Penguin 1993): "Love is not, anywhere, taken seriously. It's not respected. It's the one thing that everyone in the world wants but for some reason people are obliged to pretend that love is trifling and foolish. Work is important. Living arrangements are important. Wars and good sex and race relations and the environment are important, and so are health and fitness. Even minor shifts of faith or political intention are given a weight that is not accorded love. We turn our heads and pretend it's not there, the thunderous passions that enter a life and alter its course. Love belongs in an amateur operetta, on the inside of a jokey greeting card or in the annals of an old-fashioned poetry society. Moon and June and spoon and soon ... It's womanish, it's embarrassing, something jeer at, something for jerks."
Rachel Kadish, in her novel Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) bravely declared her aim of writing a book that takes happiness and love seriously. Her heroine, Tracy Farber, speaks for the author: "It's as if our whole literary tradition, which has been unsparing on the subjects of death, war, poverty, et cetera, has agreed to keep the gloves on where happiness is concerned. And no-one has addressed it. I mean, shame on us all -- readers, critics, writers. Anyone who tries to take happiness seriously is belittled. The writers who pen happy endings risk getting labeled 'regionalists' which is like a paternal pat on the head and a nudge back to the children's table. Or worse, they're called 'romance writers' -- the literary world's worst insult."
I’m proud to be following these two courageous women and others like Audrey Niffenegger with my novel Romance Language. But my literary inspiration goes back even further to books I loved as a youth like Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque’s Three Comrades. In these great novels, and in my modest offering, brave, intelligent and sympathetic protagonists struggle to sustain their great loves against the crushing weight of historical events they cannot control. In the case of my novel, it is the tumultuous revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989. I try to explore different kinds of love and its overwhelming power – but also its limitations in the real world. Surely my agent was wrong. Surely there is a market for that.
Tomorrow: The Joys and Pain of Publishing