Not a Romance

      This list exists solely because I want to register my objection to books which have been winners and finalists for the Lambda Award in the Romance Category.  Let me be very clear that I’m not questioning the quality of the books, just their inclusion in the romance category.  I’ve read all of them and enjoyed them.  Some were really very good, but I can’t call them romances.  Allow me a bit of a rant at this point.
     It seems many people consider a book a romance if it has a romance in it, even though the romance is only a small, virtually incidental, part of the story.  That book can be fiction.  It can even be romantic fiction, but to be a romance, it must primarily be about the romance.  Everything else must be secondary.  Just as in any mystery everything is secondary to solving the crime, just as in an action/adventure it’s about bringing the enterprise to a successful conclusion (think Star Wars), in a romance everything must contribute to the development of the relationship between two people who are falling in love.  They can solve crimes, fight wars, be marooned on a desert island.  They can even run for public office, but everything in the book must be integral to the development of their relationship.  The romance can’t be allotted less than ten percent of the book.  It can’t be limited to the last few chapters.  The couple can’t spend most of the book apart.  A romance is about two people working to solve a series of conflicts/problems that are keeping them apart.  One of those can be a crime, a war, or the establishment of a professional career, but they are obstacles to be overcome, not the central issue of the book.  The romance is.
     That’s why a book is called a romance.  And why the books listed below shouldn’t be.
     Someone, somewhere, is going to ask, “What about
Sleepless in Seattle?” Isn’t that a romance? ” It’s definitely very romantic, but it can’t be a romance by my definition because the two people don’t meet until the last scene in the movie.  It’s infatuation, it’s lust, it’s curiosity, it’s barely avoiding a big mistake, but it’s not a romance.  That would come after the end of the movie.  If you want a movie romance, see An Affair to Remember, the movie they mention so often.  THAT is a romance. 

     Beierle, Andrew W. M.The Winter of Our Discothque (2002) A Lambda Award winner, this book has a bit of romance at the end, but you have to wade through a lot of unrelated story to get there. The book is mainly about Tony, Val, and Devlin. Tony is transformed, through no effort of his own, from a poor guy pumping gas in Florida into the hottest, most gorgeous model in New York. His love interests are treated almost as incidents to the story. He falls for various guys then turns to drugs and becomes an incredible slut when he’s disappointed. When he does finally meet a nice guy (Avery makes his first appearance about page 250 and disappears fifty pages later), he bails at the first sign of trouble. He gives the guy a chance in the end (after an absence of another hundred pages, Avery reappears for the last three pages of the book), but if I had been Avery, I wouldn’t have taken him back. Tony has no sense of direction, is merely living off his looks, other people’s money, and their tolerance. A well written book, but has a protagonist I cannot admire.

     Byrnes, Rob When the Stars Come Out (2006) Another Lambda Award winner. I continue to be amazed at what is called a romance. It’s an excellent book which I thoroughly enjoyed, but it’s NOT a romance. True, there is a trace of a romance in this book, but just barely. Once the two men meet and decide to give themselves a chance, their story virtually disappears and that of the secondary couple takes over. Since that story involves writing an exposé of the guy’s marriage thirty-five years earlier to a major movie star, there is no connection with the “romantic” couple. In fact, Bart, the partner in the romance, virtually disappears from the book.

     Ford, Michael Thomas Changing Tides (2007) I tried to put this book in a different category, but in the end I simply couldn’t. The “romance” is basically limited to two scenes near the end of the book, one where they have sex for the first time, and the last when Ben asks Hudson to stay. Ben isn’t even aware of what’s happening until they have sex. The “romance” could have been taken out of the book and it wouldn’t have changed anything.  I have the feeling Ford is moving toward mainstream fiction, possibly non-gay mainstream fiction. I wish him nothing but success. I just wish he and the Lambda judges would realize he isn’t writing romances. Lambda Award Winner

     Outland, Orland Different People (2002) This book was a difficult call because the couple is introduced at the beginning and does get together at the end. However, I put the book in this section because the two men are separated for most of the book. The book was more about gay movements and drugs. During the ten years they were apart, which makes up most of the book, Eric and Cal met twice and only briefly. Eric had a lover, and Cal lost himself in drugs. Only in the end do they have more than a few sentences with each other. Their romance was treated almost like an epilogue.  I wouldn’t argue if someone wanted to put it in the Romantic But Not a Romance list.

     Rudetsky, Seth Broadway Nights (2007) This is a really funny book. I recommend it to anyone who likes humor or who has an interest in Broadway, but it is not a romance. The only romance, if it can be called that, begins on page 325 and ends on 331. The love interest is mentioned only twice before the book ends on page 339. It’s written in the form of a diary which gives it continuity even when the author bounces from one story thread to another.

     Schimel, Lawrence Two Boys In Love (2006) These short stories are called love stories, but I don’t agree. The first stories are romantic, but they stop right when the two men become aware of each other for the first time. After that, they aren’t love stories at all. Some are just about sex. The last two are about partners who have very open relationships. I don’t see much love at all. I know my concept of love requiring fidelity isn’t popular with many gay men, but recreational sex involving strangers chosen at random and under the influence of drink and/or drugs just isn’t my idea of romance.

     Sibley, William Jack Any Kind of Luck (2001) I can’t see how this book can be called a romance when most of it is about the dissolution of Clu and Chris’s relationship. It’s also in a single viewpoint so the reader is as unaware as Clu is that Chris is falling out of love with him. Clu hooks up with a younger boy at the end of the book, but it feels more like a hookup than a relationship. It certainly isn’t a replacement for his relationship with Chris. Actually, I was never really sure why Chris fell out of love with Clu, and I’m not willing to read it again to figure it out. The book is mostly about Clu coming back to his home in Texas to take care of his mother and his readjustment to the life he’d escaped from years earlier.

     Taylor, Robert A Few Hints and Clews (2007) Rather than a romance, this book is the narrative of a man’s life. He meets his life partner and falls in love the same night. After that it’s just the story of what happens to two people who live together, their jobs, their families, their neighbors. Even their vacations. The one act of infidelity is dealt with in two pages and never mentioned again. They have no problems to solve, no relationship issues that threaten to keep them apart. The sea of their romance is so calm it’s almost boring.

     Zeffer, Andy Going Down in La-La Land (2006) I didn’t put this book on any of my lists originally because I didn’t think it was a romance, not even romantic. Then I discovered it had been a Lambda finalist in the romance category so I had to comment. It’s an excellent book and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but there is no romance. There’s barely infatuation. What were the judges smoking?


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