Someone said to me recently: there’s always a love story in your novels. They said it as if that was a surprise.
Is it because I’m a guy?
It’s true that in many commercial novels and Hollywood films written by guys, love is just the maguffin. The main character often has a ‘love interest’, their reward at the end for finding the treasure or saving the world.
But there’s some best-selling fiction where love is much more than that – as it is in life.
You may have noticed this: for some, love seems easy. They marry childhood sweethearts. They stay married. There are only a few bumps along the way.
But some of us get wounded, or are already wounded to start with. Love is not the reward at the end; it’s a challenge of itself.
And some guys do write about it very well.
Catherine falls in love with Henry to distance herself from grief; Henry falls in love with her to forget about the war. Hemingway knew what he was about here; he had seen war up close and personal.
But this is a war story that isn’t. In the novel, love changes from a diversion to the fire that sustains them both. Loyalty to a lover becomes more important than loyalty to a cause and what starts out as a game of seduction becomes real earnest.
Hemingway is saying we don’t really understand the stakes of love before we begin, and we don’t know what we have after until it is gone.
Marius Pontemercy wins Cosett’e affections with a love letter; but it’s not a letter you could set to music.
In revealing his affections to her, he bares his soul to the reader and also to himself.
In the process Hugo also bares a part of his own soul.
He once said: "Every man who writes, writes a book; this book is himself. Whether he knows it or not, whether he wishes it or not, it is true. From every body of work, whatever it may be, wretched or illustrious, there emerges a persona, that of the writer. It is his punishment, if he is petty; it is his reward, if he is great".
And then there’s Tolstoy.
Anna Karenina is regarded as one of literature’s great love stories, yet it is not at all romantic in the Hallmark sense. He did not presuppose that you become happy by finding love. For him love was an elemental force that could be blessing – or a curse.
Love can ask us to change in elemental ways; to reject our own sacred beliefs, to turn our back on our own kind, to do the unthinkable.
Facing down the villain at high noon may seem chickenshit in comparison.
So why is there always a love story in my fiction?
Because love is dangerous. It can ask more of us than we might ever think to give; it can also heal us more than we ever imagined. And you never quite know which it will be until it is too late to turn back.
And isn’t that the heart of drama?
Isn’t that what happens in life?
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