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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Love vs. Love Story

Love vs. Love Story

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H-G Kiss
For Valentine's Day, my sweetheart gave me My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead, a collection of love stories edited by Jeffrey Eugenides. It's a great collection, Chekhov and Faulkner and de Maupassant and Nabakov and Deborah Eisenberg and Malamud and Alice Munro and Eileen Chang and... Well. It's a wonderful present. (I'm not telling what I gave her.)

Anyway, I thought I'd quote an interesting paragraph from Eugenides's introduction:

When it comes to love, there are a million things to explain it. But when it comes to love stories, things are simpler. A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims -- these are lucky eventualities but they aren't love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.

  • Well love has to suffer in order to be a story. You can't start a story that starts out with they lived happily ever after. Anyway, stories mirror real life. Real people write them. Most people want the happily ever after and rarely achieve it. They're too busy trying to get it without thinking of the the other person.

    The idea of Valentine's Day fascinates me. I have never celebrated it. It's very American, or at least the secular version of it is. I asked my Russina co-worker the other day if she celebrated it. She said she never heard of it till she came here. She also added that it's becoming popular over there now.
    • I pretty much agree, Rachel. Fundamental to a good story is drama, and fundamental to drama is conflict. How do you have conflict when you're already living happily ever after?

      And as for Valentine's Day -- I can't find it within me to dislike a holiday devoted to romantic love. I'm just a fluffball at heart, despite what I write.

      ...And would you pleeeeeze do something about that icon? Thumper's head is giving me a headache.
  • Yes, you've got to have drama to have a good love story, but what bothers me are the people who think they need that kind of drama in their lives. I've known quite a few people who, if everything is going happily-ever-after along, become bored and do something to mess it up just to keep life "interesting." Give me drama in a book or movie. I'll "escape" into the fiction and use it to help me appreciate my trouble-free real life all the more.
    • Yes, definitely, I agree with you. Drama is necessary in fiction because it's -- well, fiction. There has to be a reason for the reader to keep reading. (Those holiday letters one gets, that are full of nothing but good news, are gratifying, but they don't make thrilling reading.)

      But I'm grateful that my life has as little real drama in it as it does. Real drama means trouble. God knows there are many millions who have all the real drama in their lives anyone could ask, and none of them are happy about it...

      ...Which makes me wonder. I'm a reasonably happy person (knock wood) and I've been pretty fortunate in my life (knock wood again). Why do I gravitate towards writing about really miserable people?
    • You struck a cord with me here. I would agree with you about the happiness and fortunate life - I had a great upbringing in a loving Italian family and I think I'm well-adjusted and currently quite content in my life. Yet I, too, love to torture my characters. I wouldn't say the characters I write about are miserable to begin with, more like normal people who are put through the ringer. Why do I like to put them through the ringer?
      When you figure it out, let me know. :) I'm going to think on it for a while.

      And no, I STILL haven't heard anything on Fish.
    • I've been thinking about your last question for most of the day. I wonder if maybe it's because you (we) write misery/hardships/problems into our stories that we're able to have happier lives? Most of the emotional upheavals in my life have taken place in the fall, so for more than a decade, I've dealt with depression from mid-September until well after the New year, even if nothing horrible was happening...until this year. I kept waiting for the spiral to start, but it never did. The only thing I can think of that I was doing differently was writing. Perhaps channeling misery into our characters keeps us from incorporating it into our own lives? Just a thought...
  • You're preaching to the choir here, Ken. Flangst is best. :)
    • Well, then you'll be happy to learn that the current story (unnamed because this is a public post, but you know what I mean) has both a tearful misunderstanding and a tearful reunion, including at least one good slap in the face...
  • Hmm. I want to say yes and no to this. *grins*

    Yes, there needs to be conflict - otherwise where's the story? And if it's a love story (rather than another kind of story in which there just happens to be a romance alongside the main plot), then the conflict needs to concern the relationship.

    But no, I don't think they necessarily require the things Eugenides lists, in particular the 'at least one cold heart'. Conflict can be either external or internal. Neither Cinderella nor Prince Charming had a cold heart. Nor Romeo or Juliet. External circumstances can be sufficient. Love doesn't have to have a bad name in a love story - love can be the thing that conquers all. *enjoys fluffy moment*

    I also think that the conflict doesn't necessarily need to be dramatic or angsty in order to be engaging. Internal conflict to do with things like misunderstandings, lack of assurance and so on can be subtle, and even hopeful, as the romance progresses towards its conclusion.

    One of the things I really enjoyed about Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series was the way in which, after the first book, she focusses on a marriage which is secure. You get to watch the 'happy ever after' - which, like all marriages isn't always perfectly happy, though you never doubt their mutual love (and unlike most marriages also has to survive a time-travelling wife). There are some external circumstances they have to overcome to stay together but their love remains strong. Perhaps these later books aren't precisely 'love stories' and yet I love them for their portrayal of ongoing love.

    Did your Powerpoint find you?
    • I agree that the "cold heart" part is probably hyperbolic. What he's right about is that there must be obstacles or the story is dull.

      "Love conquers all," if it comes at all, probably needs to come only at the very end, though. And personally (Eugenides says this too) I think that love stories are more compelling because it love doesn't conquer all -- it doesn't conquer death, and that is why it is so very precious.
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