The Book Meme: Day 21

Day 21 - Favorite romantic/sexual relationship

Given yesterday's discussion of kisses, it's probably not a shock to learn that I find a lot of literary romances less than satisfying. Many of them, by design, are there to provide conflict, which is generally good for the plot, but not necessarily for the romance. Others are a maguffin: Character A pursues Character B so that she will have something to motivate her. And since, as I've indicated, I don't read much from the romance genre, I don't read that many books where the romantic relationship is the main point of the story.

That said, there is one way to get a romance to work for me: put it on stage. (Film or TV works as well.) Perhaps I'm less removed from the romance when it's divorced from a narrator and simply laid out for me where I can see the characters' interactions. Benedick and Beatrice (especially when portrayed by Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, though Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker are also pretty damn good) are a delight to watch; I don't mind reading Much Ado About Nothing on the page, either, but drama is meant to be played out in front of you. I'll also throw out a nod toward the relationship of George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It's often terrifying, brutal, and dysfunctional, but by god it's a marriage, one where the emotions are deep, and it's absolutely riveting to watch.

I can think of a few other relationships that seemed real, or at least emotionally engaging (Vince and Beth in Jess Walter's Citizen Vince is one I remember as satisfying), but the two I think I enjoyed reading about most were drastically different.

In Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, protagonist/thief Peter Lake falls in love with Beverly, the sickly daughter of the wealthy Isaac Penn, and the resulting romance is passionate, fantastical, and completely engrossing. The heat of the desire the characters feel for each other is sometimes literal, taking place in the cold expanses of upstate New York (or a magical-realist version of upstate New York, at least), and you can't help but wish for a happier resolution than circumstances seem able to provide. It's a beautifully written book and a beautifully depicted romance.

My favorite relationship, though, is one that I love partly because it is so incredibly messy. When John Varley's Gaea Trilogy kicks off with the first volume, Titan, (which won a Hugo and a Nebula Gaby Plauget is the astronomer of the NASA ship Ringmaster, exploring Saturn under the command of Captain Cirocco "Rocky" Jones. By the end of the book, they are no longer commander and subordinate, but friends, companions in adventure, and lovers, brought together by the strange, astonishing, and sometimes horrifying elements of the new world in which they find themselves. And in the next two volumes, the relationship gets really bizarre. 

I first read Titan when was 19, and if it wasn't the first book I'd read where the central relationship was lesbian, it had to be close to the first. Cirocco is the protagonist, and a rich, complex character indeed, but Varley works hard to give Gaby a depth and complexity of her own. The two are not idealized lovers, nor is their relationship presented as either uplifting proof that Gay People Are People Too or as some kind of exercise in pornography. As I said, their relationship is a mess. They're tied down by responsibilities to others (not least the vast intelligence that rules their new world) and shaped by their individual backgrounds in ways that make their romance rocky (heh) at best and all but impossible at worst. It's a wonderful relationship because the characters are wonderful, and even in an environment full of hermaphroditic centaurs and sapient blimps, their love feels like the real thing.

Tom Clancy once called John Varley "the best writer in America." The relationship between Cirocco and Gaby is just one more piece of evidence that he was right.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 27, 2018 8:59 AM.

The Book Meme: Day 20 was the previous entry in this blog.

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