In Search Of Contemporary Classics That Stand The Test of Time
I love falling headfirst into a good contemporary romance, getting swept up by daydreams of a sexy hero, a relatable heroine and a seemingly insurmountable modern day problem. But I can't help but notice that, all too often, the stories I enjoy don’t hold up through the years. Despite how much I may have liked them when they came out, the novels simply don’t stand up to a re-reading.
Unlike historicals, fantasy novels or to a large extent, paranormal reads, contemporary-set stories are the only ones that really suffer from outdated references. For the most part the other genres age gracefully, historical phrases remain the same no matter if the book was written in 1992 or 2012. The same goes for a futuristic tale, it doesn’t matter so much when the story was created, in these books contemporary slang will look out of place no matter what unless it is justified within the world of the story. In comparison, older contemporary books don’t just show their age, they look like a middle aged mom trying to wear her teenager’s clothes.
Showing your age as a contemporary novel can come in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it’s a mention of TV shows that had flash in the pan popularity, or even worse, characters or the narrator included a catch phrase from that shows. I challenge you to find me a hero, heroine or even villain who can say, “You are the weakest link” and not have the turn of phrase jar you out of the story. It also irks me when there’s an abundance of slang that simply doesn’t work when you re-read the book more then a few years after it was published. (Ubiquitous “Whazzza”s of the early 2000s, I am looking at you.)
However, by far the worst offender on my list is technology in the story that is no longer in use at the time of the re-reading. Now I’m not saying that heroes and heroines shouldn’t call each other, or that people shouldn’t use answering machines. These are pieces of technology that were (and still are) in use, even as landlines change to cellphones and answering machines become voicemail. That being said, anyone who wrote beepers into their books is basically dead to me.
Even some beloved authors do not manage to write stories that age well. I understand that as an author who is deciding to re-publish your backlist, it’s an important decision to figure out whether you are going to update the language in your stories. Unfortunately, because author Jennifer Greene decided to re-release some books from her backlist without making any updates, I had a difficult time reading them because phrasing and word choice was outdated. (Although maybe some of that is personal preference. If you would not find it strange for your hero to refer to your particularly attractive bottom as a fanny, leave me a comment below!) And I find it particularly sad when a recent release has a piece of slang in it that has fallen out of use. The book is literally old before it’s time. Most recently I experienced a moment of this phenomenon Nora Roberts’ latest. Her characters use the verb “hooking” rather than “cutting” when they referenced skipping school, but the moment certainly took me out of the action of the story. I totally understand that you can’t always catch everything, but it’s unfortunate to be knocked out of the rhythm of reading by a phrase that simply doesn’t sit correctly, especially when it’s in a book that has just hit the shelves!
All of that being said, I really love contemporary romances. And some of my favorite contemporary romances weren’t written in this decade, and a few weren’t even written in the last one! There are three tales that stand out as favorite re-reads from the past two decades that I would suggest everyone who loves love make sure is on their shelves.
There’s 2004’s Charmed by Beth Ciotta, which pairs Lulu Ross, a princess performer for children’s birthday parties, with professional bodyguard Colin Murphy. This tale has a sense of humor that will stay with you long after you put it down. (Heck, it’s been in my heart for almost a decade now.) I suggest you try to find a copy with the original cartoon artwork on the cover, because it does such a perfect job of capturing the heart of the book. But no matter what the book is wearing, the story absolutely holds up.
I could — and have — read Jennifer Crusie’s 2002 novel Getting Rid of Bradley two hundred thousand million times. Really, I’ve gone through five different copies and I always want to pick it up whenever I see it in a bookstore. The story is a modern day 1940s he said-she said movie, complete with a villain, a twist ending and a passel of adorable dogs. Readers will commiserate with Lucy, as the teacher’s orderly life becomes something she doesn’t even recognize when police detective Zach moves in to protect her from a mysterious threat. My favorite scene? Probably, when she accidentally dyes her hair green. Come on, we’ve all had that moment when we are trying to make a change and it goes so horribly, horribly wrong.
And 1994’s It Had to be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips is another winner. Not only did this story spawn Phillips’ incredibly popular Chicago Stars series, it introduced readers to the effervescent Phoebe Somerville. A curvy, outrageous and effervescent New Yorker who makes the transition to Chi-town when she inherits a football team and the team’s grouchy, but incredibly good-looking head coach Dan Celebow. Despite naysayers' predictions, Phoebe won’t be giving up her inheritance just because the men she works with think that football is a boys’ club and their new boss is a bimbo. It’s a battle of the sexes for the ages as Phoebe makes her own way in a man’s world — and gets the guy!
These stories all include perfect comedic timing, intelligent heroines and excellent banter. All things that make me overlook the occasional strange word choice. Because the stories are just that good, the characters stand up to multiple readings. Unfortunately, these stories are the exceptions that make the rule.
Did I miss a favorite tale of yours or do you have other "rules" for contemporary romances that can stand the test of time? Let me know what contemporary romances you consider re-readable classics by leaving your comments below.