Let’s start with a love story. A few years ago, Rose, my partner’s 97 year old grandmother, met a man named Hardy in her retirement home. This may be apocryphal, but I heard that Hardy saw Rose walking in the courtyard and thought, “That is a nice lady.” This is the part I’ve always loved because Rose walks very slowly and with difficulty, usually with a walker. He was completely right — she is a very nice lady — and they have been inseparable ever since. Rose and Hardy exercise together in the mornings; they watch movies in the evenings. Hardy has proposed to Rose though she doesn’t want to get married because of the hassle. Hardy is in his early 90’s, which makes him a younger man. The last time I saw Rose, she said to me incredulously, “I never thought I would meet the love of my life in my 90’s!” (Never mind that Rose had three children with her late husband — he was obviously not the one.) Hardy and Rose have been the King and Queen of their local Mardi Gras celebration for three years in a row.
Despite our universal weakness for a great love story, romance has always been easy to dismiss, both as a subject and as a genre. This is not hard to explain: Romance often involves women, it usually involves love and lust, and it requires a happy ending. It is a truth universally acknowledged that these are not serious people or serious subjects or serious forms of literature. And yet, that kind of dismissal overlooks the radical power of a romantic story. As a genre, Romance has a long history of formal innovation: Austen, female protagonists, queer sexuality. Romance also represents a huge financial market, with a massive and loyal audience. As a subject, it is almost endlessly expansive; it can include history and politics, gender and power, sexuality, religion and family. It’s a mistake to discount something so canny and so emotionally powerful.
This issue of the LARB Quarterly Journal is dedicated to “romance” in that very expansive sense. Two Romance writers, Cat Sebastian and Scarlett Peckham, describe their relationship to the craft and the strong political message of the genre. Many of the pieces use love — erotic or otherwise — as a jumping off point. Yaagnik Kosuri’s piece, “Little Bee”, is about his complicated relationship with his mother, the love of his life. “Nkori” by Onyinye Ihezukwu tells the story of a young woman, trying to understand her sexuality. Kristen Gleason’s surreal short story “The Cafe” tells an incredible tale about the importance of travel. Mark Edmundson asks “Why does love got to be so sad?” and lets Shelley, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer answer the question. In “Protest”, Lisa Locascio tries to understand her romantic happiness in light of current events.
There is another radical thought: happiness and joy in otherwise difficult times. Romance has a way of turning things inside out, like clothes for instance, or lives. There is suddenly love at the very end of life, or a way to start with a good, happy ending.
Editor, Quarterly Journal