Here's one of my favourites:
I myself am depressed more easily by works that evade, compensate or cover up than I am by ones that pursue their patterns to the conclusions inherent in them. I’d rather have an unhappy ending than a happy one if it’s an unhappy ending that the story demands.
~Margaret Atwood, from Survival: A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature
Brief introduction for those who don’t know me: I’m Giselle, I’m Canadian, I’m queer, and I write books for a living.
Well… “books” could be anything from short taboo smut to novels with erotic content—the latest of which is The Other Side of Ruth, subtitled “A Lesbian Novel.” Not “A Lesbian Romance,” note. Although the book involves a woman falling in love with another woman, I really wouldn’t class it as a romance.
A couple years ago, I was talking about my books with my mom (a rarity—we don’t generally discuss my work). She knew I wrote erotica, and extended that to encompass erotic romance. Yes, sure, some of my books have romantic aspects (and some are actually tear-jerkingly sweet), but I still think of myself as primarily a writer of literary erotica and queer fiction.
My mom couldn’t understand what I was saying. She asked, “How can there be sex with no romance?”
First of all… awww! Isn’t my mom just the cutest? (Yeah, she is. She’s adorable.)
But secondly… that’s a remarkably complex question.
For a book to be considered a romance, or erotic romance for that matter, it needs to meet certain criteria. Basically, it needs to be about people falling in love and it needs to have a happy, fulfilling ending for those characters.
Right? (I’m kind of making up rules, here.)
Anyway, there’s more to romance than just the falling in love part and the happy ending part. In order to appeal to readers in the romance genre, a book needs to have a certain ebb and flow. You’d have to ask a romance reader about the finer points of what they’re looking for.
Here’s the thing: a “happy ending,” in the context of romance, has a pretty narrow meaning. Two (or more?) characters need to fall in love and end up together. If a character’s happiness comes from anything else at all (finding oneself, coming out of the closet, achieving world peace, bringing your dog back from the dead) that’s not romance.
Right? (I’m honestly making all this up.)
So what can you do if misery appeals to you?
Well, if you’re me you say, “Screw it. This book is not a romance.”
That’s what I did with The Other Side of Ruth. Ruth is thirty years older than Agnes, and she’s married to a man. We’re talking about sneaking around. We’re talking about lying. We’re talking about an illicit love affair.
When I started writing The Other Side of Ruth, I hadn’t exactly planned out the ending (or the middle… or the beginning…), but I knew I wouldn’t be doing this story or these characters justice if I shoehorned in a happily-ever-after for them. It’s not that they don’t “deserve” it… it’s just that I’m a realist—in life, and in fiction.
Sorry-not-sorry for the spoiler.
I realize there are a lot of readers who won’t pick up a book unless they KNOW they’re going to like the ending. I almost-sort-of understand. Almost. Sort of.
For instance, the end of The Cure for Death by Lightning ruined to story for me. Does that mean I wish I hadn’t read the book at all? No. I recognize that, as a reader, the most I can do is interpret what’s on the page. It isn’t my place to demand a different ending.
On the other hand, the ending of The Well of Loneliness (which *SPOILER ALERT* is pretty much exactly the same as the end of The Cure for Death by Lightning) is heartrending but perfect. It’s perfect because it’s realistic. You read it and think, “Yup, that’s life. Sucky, unfair, terrible life!”
Since many readers of romantic fiction are seeking to escape life (sucky life!) it makes sense that heartbreak wouldn’t make for a fulfilling capper, but me? I happen to like seeing life reflected back to me in fiction.
Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, The Other Side of Ruth. Yup, it’s got real life written all over it. Now I’ve got you thinking it’s all angsty-painy when, really, it isn’t.
To be honest, I find the ending optimistic and uplifting, even if it isn’t conventionally romantic.
That’s my take. I guess you’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.
The Other Side of Ruth is available as an audiobook and also in print.
Listen to the audiobook
Buy the ebook at
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=XSlaEAAAQBAJ
Universal Book Link: https://books2read.com/Ruth
Also available from many other retailers!