The very first romance I ever read was Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college (1992), and I was staying with a friend for a few days of R&R. My mother had read romances all my life, old-school styling with Fabio on the front and sweeping vistas of pirate ships and dangerous seas. I was more discerning than that. But Jude Deveraux grabbed me by the gut and held on until I got to the very end and...hated it.
Oh, my God, I have never felt such despair at the end of a book than when Nicholas had to remain in 1500s England and Douglass had to return to the present. It’s one of the few books I have ever actually cried while reading, and wound up in such a maudlin, depressing mood for days afterward. Just writing it now makes my throat close up. Because until the crappy ending, I loved it.
Talk about an indelible impression: I haven’t willingly picked up a book that I knew beforehand was about time travel in 19 years. But there are always those rope-a-dope titles that are popular and “you-have-to-read.” Two more come to mind: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. And you can forget me including passages from any of these books; I’m in a good mood today and intend to stay that way.
Let’s start with the Niffenegger story. Obviously, I knew ahead of time this was about time traveling of some fashion. But I didn’t realize it was a romance because my mother-in-law’s book club had chosen it, and they’re famous for choosing the Oprah-type downers. But on this rare occasion they invited me, so I indulged.
Can you guess that I didn’t like it? Again with the depressing departure and waiting and waiting and waiting for your love to return. It’s like ripping your heart out through your chest and letting it roll around on the ground and get dirt and grass and grime imbedded in it while Henry’s traveling, and then shoving it back in your chest without washing it off or disinfecting it when he’s back in the same timeline with Clare. Painful, to say the least. But because I didn’t want to disappoint my MIL, I finished it and discussed it and was then finished with it.
Outlander is a different story all together. It doesn’t even sound like a time traveler. But it is. It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And when you add to the mix that Jamie Fraser is one of the sexiest, most romantic heroes in all of literature and a bit like catnip to this reader, avoiding this whole series of books is like trying to stay away from chocolate. But then my friend lent me her copy for a road trip I had with my boys about two weeks before Christmas one year. I started reading it and, despite the fact that Clare finds herself in Jacobian Scotland one day, I loved it. So I stayed with it…until it became painfully obvious that Clare would be leaving Jamie. Damn it!
But by the time I had the realization it was too late. My mister had bought the first four books in the series and wrapped them up under the Christmas tree—that’s what you get when you start a series well after its publication. It was a HUGE investment. So I had to read on. Right? Again, damn it!
Every time I think consistency will prevail, they travel. And as the series progresses, their daughter Brianna also begins to travel. I found that I couldn’t just read one book at a time, jumping here and there in time and storyline, like reading some R-rated Dr. Seuss. So I would sit on the floor in the living room with all four books fanned out in an array in front of me, so I could flip through and find the same timeline to follow. It was exhausting. And it took me weeks to read like that. When I finished the fourth book, I put them on my bookshelf and cursed fate for drawing me in.
And don’t you know that for my birthday two months later, in February, he bought the fifth installment, The Fiery Cross. I have never cracked it open. Not once. I know that more books in the series have been published, but I have no idea how the story progresses. I don’t want to know if they die. If they suffer and perish horribly at the hands of fate. Oh, my God, I don’t want to know if Clare travels back to her modern time and leaves Jamie to flounder for himself alone for 20 more years, or if he dies horribly and alone while Clare sits in air conditioning with sanitary conditions and electricity.
And don’t you tell me.
Dolly Sickles is a Southerner with a lifelong penchant for storytelling. Her Secret Squirrel identity is Dolly Sickles, but she also writes romance as Becky Moore, and in the spring of 2012, her first children’s book will be published as Dolly Dozier. She’s an avid reader of all literature, but she takes refuge in the romance genre, where despite the most grandiose, exhilarating, strange, and unlikely plot that’s out there, every story has a happy ending.