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(Various spoilers for various books ahead. Old ones, but still.)
What got me started thinking about this topic was not a book, but a TV show. A show I think that you all probably know.
I was catching up recently with the end of season six (real talk: I usually get really fed up with Don’s bullshit about halfway through the season and take a long break) and season seven when I had a realization: Pete and Peggy could totally get back together.
I lost my shit at the prospect of it. I suddenly need this to happen more than anything else.
I started poring over past episodes, re-living the few moments we had with them together–Pete and his crazy man-fantasies of dragging deer home in the woods so Peggy could fry it up and feed it to him, Pete showing up at Peggy’s door because he had to see her, Peggy reaching him to pull him toward her while they were gettin’ it on in his office all silhouette-like. Peggy telling Pete about the baby. Sigh.
While I was looking at Pete-and-Peggy-devoted tumblrs (hush), it occurred to me that I knew this behavior, these feelings, from a long time ago. It brought back echoes of alternately obsessing miserably and bathing in the elation of hope and tiny victories.
Y’all, I have a crazy-major crush on Pete and Peggy.
This is not the first time I’ve fallen for a fictional couple. I felt the same nerves when Sookie fell in love with an amnesiac Eric Northman and a heady joy when he fell in love back; I drank the bitter dregs of disappointment when they couldn’t make it work together. I felt betrayed when Claire discovered that Jamie had moved on from their marriage, and a rush of relief when she discovered that he had not moved on from loving her. I wept when Janie had to shoot Tea Cake and I threw my copy of Oscar and Lucinda across the room after Peter Carey took us on a long and arduous journey of falling in love by sips, just to screw everything up at the last second in the dumbest way possible.
The feels, they were real.
Even if you don’t read romance novels, the fictional romance can be a powerful draw. It loosens something in your heart because it’s something that most of us can empathize with; we’ve all been through the cycle, from budding interest to crushing defeat. Love is not something that we do lightly as humans–when you’re truly in, you’re all in. New love follows you constantly, making the day brighter and birds sing happier. When love ends, you’re thoroughly miserable. Your hair hurts. You cry until you’re out of tears.
When you feel something so deeply, it’s hard to keep a stiff upper lip when you re-experience it in fiction.
If you want to make me cry at the end of a book, write a love gone wrong. Or, if you’re poor Joan Didion, write it at the beginning–I’ve never cried as much reading as I did when I read The Year of Magical Thinking, her memoir about life after the unexpected death of her husband.
If, on the other hand, you want me to get addicted to your book, make me fall in love. Make me laugh and feel tingly-dizzy with the possibilities of two people kindling a romance. I admit it–I’m a total junkie when it comes to falling in love on paper.
Who are your favorite literary couples? I could use some new romances to sigh over.