HEA? Really?

Do you ever read books that have a purported happily ever after and just wonder? When I first started reading romance novels (at the tender age of 12, in secret, from my grandmom’s stash of florid historicals), I never questioned the HEA. In fact, I questioned very little of what went on the books. Amazing orgasms for first time sex? Okay (seriously, what does a 12 year old know? Maybe more today, but no so much twenty years ago). Hero behavior that was abusive? Okay, but he loved her, so it was alright. Epilogue that says that they got married, had children and lived happily ever after? Of course, because that was the natural order of things.As got older, obviously I learned to question the stuff I was reading. No means no, even if the hero is sure the heroine means yes. First time sex is not necessarily orgasmic, and you may need a little more attention from The One or Mr. Right Now than the two seconds of foreplay that most novels offered for everyone to get their freak on. And the HEA epilogue doesn’t thrill me so much. Marriage and 2.3 kids aren’t necessarily a happy ending, not for me and not for many of the characters I read about. But beyond the whole idea of an HEA, sometimes I reach the end of a book and think, “Yeah, that’ll never last.” Sometimes my doubt is because either the hero or the heroine has given up something so huge that I think eventually they’ll regret it. Like the professional woman who gives up the six figure salary to become a housekeeper/wife on a ranch. Not to denigrate housekeepers or wives, but is that really a transition that most women can happily make? I’m not sure, but I know that I couldn’t. [Not that I have a six figure salary to give up, that is! *laughing hysterically at the though*] Another reason that I’m skeptical is because the character who “grew” and “changed” seemed only to do so on the surface; their transformation wasn’t convincing, and I expect that six months down the road, the behavior that created the original conflict will resurface. For example, in Carmen Green’s Kissed, in the very last chapter, the hero finally did what the heroine wanted, after spending the entire book being a self-centered a**hole. His abrupt conversion to sensitivity and sharing and sacrifice for his wife was NOT convincing.A third reason is plain old character incompatibility. Yes, while chemistry is bubbling and hormones are roiling, they are attracted to one another. But when they are stressed at work or having family problems or money problems and are not living in such a haze of lust, will they really have anything in common? Gone Too Far’s Sam and Alyssa are prime examples of this. I liked them as secondary characters in Brockmann’s early books in the Troubleshooter Series, but was not impressed with their HEA. They spent most of their book arguing with each other, chasing bad guys and having sex. All stuff that gets the adrenaline pumping, but I didn’t get the feeling that they’d be all that happy together once the adrenaline rush wore off.I think that the disbelief in the HEA is a function of characterization. If the author has done a good job of building the characters, and building their relationship, then I can believe the HEA. But if the author used sex and chemistry as a short hand for the relationship, I have a harder time believing. I don’t think you have to skimp on sex and/or chemistry in order to create a believable HEA, but an author cannot rely on it exclusively to establish that the hero and heroine belong together. Books that I absolutely believe in the HEA, because of the way the characters were written and the plot handled: Bad for Each Other by Kate Hathaway; When Venus Fell by Deborah Smith; Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie.Books that I’m not sure about: the Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson, because the series is ongoing and she’s still building the relationship between Betsey and Eric. What does it take for you to believe in the HEA?

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