by Caren Crane
First, a confession: I love antique furniture, high-necked blouses, floor-length skirts and men in waistcoats and fedoras. The kind of date my husband and I love is dinner and a movie - not necessarily outside our home, either. My perfect lazy day includes curling up in the padded window seat of a picture window, reading a book, sipping tea and daydreaming. I love my house and, once home in the evening, I am loathe to leave it. I love mom, apple pie and white picket fences. I am old-fashioned to my cornball core.
I guess it should come as no surprise, then, that I adore old-fashioned love stories. The kind that are far more than 400 pages, rife with multiple points of view, myriad secondary plots and a countless secondary characters. I am, perhaps, the last, lone reader who enjoys a slow introduction to a thick, well-crafted novel. I enjoy meandering through a solidly-developed plot with characters so three-dimensional you feel you know them inside and out. My ultimate is the kind of story where the romance is just one aspect of a fantastic and sweeping tale.
In other words, I love the sort of story that is rarely published anymore.
I know how scarce these books are, since I look for them periodically. I try to find new favorites, but few authors tell the kind of story I am after when I want a slow meander. I have found a few authors who manage it, notably Deanna Raybourn in her Lady Julia Grey series, which began with Silent in the Grave. Because I savored every word of the series, it was doomed to end too soon, of course. The publisher was impatient for soaring sales, which apparently it did not have - at least, not high enough for them. Too bad for us. Lady Julia's family, the Marches, are an entity unto themselves. Each one more interesting and eccentric than the last, they should have an endless stream of books in which to live their lives. Alas, HQN killed that one!
I also recently found - thanks to my lovely sister, Holli - A Private Hotel For Gentle Ladies by Ellen Cooney. Curious about what others thought of this lovely, rather old-fashioned tale, I found many reviewers did not understand the story. Without the obvious signposts in most of today's fiction (Hero! Villain! Black moment!) and an immediate statement of the heroine's ultimate goal (which, according to the reviews, should be unchanging), some readers were lost. It was, at heart, a story about a woman coming into her own and learning who she is and what she wants outside her Victorian marriage. Yes, friends, it was about that least popular theme - a death knell in fiction today - personal growth. It was a book that begged for sequels, yet none have been published. Another one bites the dust.
I like books where people are flawed, cranky, imperfect and trying really hard to do the best they can, like I am most days. I don't always need or want action, murder, mayhem, shape-shifters, magic or smoking hot sexy time in my reading. Sometimes, I just want to observe the beauty of a summer day in Cornwall with Judith Dunbar, the heroine of Rosamunde Pilcher's exceptional book, Coming Home. I want to witness her loves and losses, trials and joys and heartbreak over the 15 or so years covered in the story.
Or I want to witness the struggle of a young, uneducated mother trying her best to keep her family together in LaVyrle Spencer's Morning Glory. To see Ellie learn that love can be something different and more than she never knew existed (and certainly didn't have in her first marriage). I want to linger, at times, over the possibility of a first kiss, to agonize over an unbidden and inadvisable attraction, to dally with the notion of a forever kind of love.
I want books where I smile and sigh at the end, because things are beautiful, satisfying and full of promise, just as love should be and would be if I could design it. I want old-fashioned tales of love enjoyed in intricate, elaborate, gorgeous detail (along with observations from the cook, the gardener and Great Aunt Lavinia, if I can get them). My love of these stories has garnered much disdain from relatives and friends who prefer serious fiction. What, I ask, is more serious than establishing a love that will last a lifetime? I will happily remain a cockeyed, old-fashioned optimist.
Do you have some old-fashioned love story recommendations? Any long, detailed and fulfilling stories that have filled your heart and brought tears of sorrow and joy to your eyes? I am always looking for new favorites, so please share!