Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Fairy Tale Quartet

It hurts me a little to admit this, but I am kind of a snob about certain kinds of books. One genre that I almost never read is romance fiction. I mean, sure, when I was a teenager, I might have grabbed a few bodice-rippers off the romance shelf at the bookstore, looking for one of "those" scenes. But in general, I steer clear of any book that has a man and woman on the cover locked in a passionate embrace. That's not to judge anyone who does read those books. I just... well, I'm a snob. It comes with the territory when you have English teachers as parents.

But there are differences between bodice-rippers and general romantic fiction, as I've learned recently. Since I'm completely in the dark about this side of fiction, I picked up an audiobook written by Nora Roberts, without knowing that she's an eminent romance novelist. The book was Vision in White, which is Book 1 of the Bride Quartet series. I listened to the book, and while I found it a bit lacking in the literary sense, I did like the characters and the setting. So I moved on to Book 2, Bed of Roses; Book 3, Savor the Moment; and Book 4, Happy Ever After. 

It didn't take me long to discover that these are, in fact, romantic novels. If the writing style and heavy emphasis on relationships and sex hadn't given it away in Book 1, I certainly would have been tipped off upon discovering that the title of Book 2 was Bed of Roses. But despite my book snobbery, and despite, as I mentioned, some literary deficiencies, I did enjoy the books enough to keep reading the series. Here's a little synopsis:

Mackenzie, Emma, Laurel and Parker have been friends since childhood, when they used to play "Wedding Day" together in the backyard. When they grow up and choose their careers, they find that all of their chosen paths can be merged together to form one business, a wedding planning affair called Vows. Mac is the genius, slightly off-beat photographer; Emma, the romantic florist; Laurel, the sarcastic but fun baker; and Parker, the savvy, smart businesswoman. Parker, who along with her lawyer brother Delaney, comes from a long line of wealth and influence, commandeers her family estate as the base for the business. The four women live and work together on the estate, creating weddings that are both works of art and well-oiled machines for the women of Greenwich, CT.

The four novels follow each of the four women, though the point of view is still somewhat universal, not always specific to the main character of the book. They also follow through a calendar year. Mac's story, in the first book, is told from January to about March; Emma's in the spring; Laurel's in the summer; and Parker's in the fall-winter, ending on January 1 of the following year. Each woman, during her few months, manages to fall in love, sometimes with a new man, sometimes with a man already in her life, and also manages to get engaged to that man within that time period. At the close of the year, all four women are madly in love with seemingly perfect relationships; all are engaged, except Mac, who is already married; and the Vows business is more thriving than ever, as all four are exceptionally talented at their work.

Happy Ever After, indeed! This is a fairy tale, only with four princesses instead of the usual one.

And that is the main thing that is both right and wrong with this series: it's completely implausible. The story lines are way too neatly wrapped up. There are some relationship twists and turns along the way, to be sure, but the reader is always confident that each woman will wind up with the man she loves, and that a ring will appear at the end of the book. I would have found the story more realistic if the time periods and book formats weren't all exactly the same. People do not fall in love and get engaged within three months. Okay, maybe the odd-out couple does, but not four women within the same year who are best friends and live and work together.

On the other hand, its implausibility is exactly what makes the story fun to read. As children, we all read and enjoyed fairy tales. Why not have them for adults, too? We're not going to consider it a great work of fiction, but no one will deny that having four beautiful, fun, accomplished princesses find their happily-ever-afters isn't a bit gratifying for the rest of us and our much less romantic lives.

My only true complaint is that while the princesses are well-written, strong women, their princes leave a lot to be desired. They're described as great men, but their dialogue is flat and uninspired. They say things like "Damn right" a lot and talk about baseball and beer. The best-written male character is actually Mac's love interest, an English professor named Carter who is both socially and physically a bit awkward. The other three are perfect specimens of male stereotype.

The dialogue between the women also leaves something to be desired. Roberts uses dialogue over-much, to describe things that people in the story should already know. For example, Laurel might describe her cake, or Emma her flowers, in full detail to a person who is standing right there and can see for herself what it looks like. Putting some of that dialogue into thought or scene description would make it less cringe-worthy, at least for me.

But despite that, it is fun to spend time with these four women and their wedding business, and if you're a girly-girl, you'll enjoy the descriptions of flowers, wedding cakes and bridal moments peppered throughout the books. And even if you're not, don't be a snob like me. Try out a new genre, if only to see what you've been missing. Even if it doesn't blow you away, you'll likely get something new and enjoyable from the experience.

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