As those close to me know, I’ve recently become a romance convert. Like many others, I had preconceptions about romance novels — what they were about, the quality of the writing… Most of which were completely and utterly wrong. I’ve read romance novels that were much better written than books in every other genre I’ve read, and although I have a major issue with the book covers for the most part, these are not books that can be judged by their covers. They can be trashy, yes, but they are also often funny, heartwarming, and emotional.
I’ve also become familiar with the genres within the genre: contemporary, historical, paranormal… The one thing in common is that the HEA, i.e., the Happily Ever After. For someone like me who has been unapologetic about how much I like (require) happy endings in my movies it’s actually surprising that it’s taken me this long to get to the romance genre.
One of the things that has also recently happened is that I’ve come to learn is that chick lit (now also called “women’s fiction,” apparently) is not the same as romance. I honestly didn’t know that before. Romance can be first and/or third person pov, is often told from the perspective of both the hero of the story and the heroine (or in the case of GLBT romances, I assume, hero/hero or heroine/heroine), and, although the characters may experience personal growth, the story focuses more on the growth of the relationship, which often means that misunderstandings and misconceptions are revealed and resolved. Chick lit tends to be first person pov, told from the perspective of one character (a women, of course), typically a character who starts out somewhat vapid (or at least is presented that way) and finds themself achieving major personal growth by the end of the book. Although a chick lit book does often involve a relationship or romance, unlike romance, that is only a byproduct.
To be honest, I’ve grown both bored and annoyed with chick lit books. Although I have definitely enjoyed them in the past, I’ve become so irritated with them in fact, that I’ve been avoiding them pretty much at all costs.
Well, o.k., not avoiding them so much as reluctantly picking one or another up, putting it in the TBR pile, and then continuously bypassing it for the next book with the half-naked man on the cover. (See my previous note about my issue with romance book covers.) And I have to admit, Mrs. Perfect was one of those books that I kept moving to the side because I just couldn’t bear yet another plodding character study of an annoying heroine.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Mrs. Perfect is the story of Taylor Young who by all apearrences is, as noted in the title, perfect. She has the perfect husband, the perfect children, perfect house, perfect life. And, in fact, she is the nemesis of Marta Zinsser, the heroine of Jane Porter’s book, Odd Man Out (which is the first Jane Porter book I read and the one that lead me to this one). I loved Marta Zinsser and hated Taylor Young. I couldn’t imagine empathizing with this character under any circumstances. And because I’d been resisting chick lit (which, I need to say is a term that seriously annoys me, although I equally despise the term “women’s fiction”) I just couldn’t bring myself to crack open this book. The thing that motivated me to finally do so was that I met Jane Porter at a conference, and she was such a lovely and wonderful person that I couldn’t imagine her writing any character that I’d truly dislike. So I took the plunge.
What amazed me was that Porter was able to simultaneously maintain the characteristics that made Taylor Young “perfect” while also layering all of her imperfections in such a relateable and believable way that it was impossible to do anything but root for her in the end. No, that makes it seem as though it’s just a matter of Taylor seeing what her issues were and fixing them all and wrapping it up with a bow; that wasn’t what happened at all. Instead, Taylor found herself in a position of losing everything she had so painstakingly built, then fighting tooth and nail to keep it, while also deeply mourning its loss. It’s not just that she learns who her friends are — it’s that she comes to know the other shades of each of these women and then realizes which of the women in her life are the ones that see her for who she is and helps build up her strength rather than try to knock her down.
The way Porter brings Marta back into the story and then develops the relationship between the two acknowledges their history while also allowing them to tentatively get past it. Bringing Taylor’s mother back into the story was also done in a fully satisfying way. And the ending, though not in the same HEA category as a romance, was everything I wanted it to be.
And although I did love this book, one of my favorite parts of it was the letter from Jane Porter at the end. “The truth is,” she says, “I am as much Taylor as I am Marta. Like all women, I’m fierce and fragile, hopeful and fearful, sunlight and shadow.” I love her; I love her books. I want to read more from her. But in the meantime I’ll just savor the advice she leaves us with: “Seize life. Love fully. Live joyfully.”
Amen to that.