All of us have picked up a book advertised by Indigo as “a thrilling new romance between two forces of nature” only to find out it’s a drawn-out bore about two coworkers who are just afraid to ask each other out. Or maybe it’s about a woman falling in love with a manipulative, aggressive, slightly terrifying yet jaw-droppingly handsome man: But don’t worry––she can change him. For some reason, I’ve always had trouble getting behind a lot of popular modern romance books. I love pretty much anything with a good love story, but I find myself rolling my eyes when trying to read another “enemies to lovers” novel that hinges entirely on miscommunication. For a lot of people, romance books are an escape from reality into a world of magic and intrigue, or perhaps just a story where men treat women like people. But for me, reading a book where I know exactly what is going to happen feels like taking years off my life.
When reading The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas, my first thought was that she must have industry connections because there is no way any respectable publisher would actually support this. The book drags on and on, and after reading almost 500 pages, a bleak realization settles in: Bland and predictable writing was not going to redeem the sponge-like personalities of the book’s main characters. There are thousands of Harry Styles fanfictions more engaging than this book, yet it remains extremely popular and well-rated. This can be accredited to the fact that this, along with many others of the genre, is simply an easy read. A basic, generic plot with characters who the reader knows are going to fall in love is comfortingly predictable.
One of the most common romance tropes is “enemies to lovers,” something I actually really enjoy when done well. The tendency, however, for it to be based on the main character’s devotion to her work (obviously making her hate her super attractive coworker who keeps distracting her) is frustrating. I recently read Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, and while romance is not its main focus, I was recommended the book many times because of its “incredible” love story. And yet, I was once again disappointed. The book is set in the 50s, so the male character is immediately dismissive of the female main character’s scientific prowess. Their love story only begins to unfold once he begins to treat her as an equal, something I couldn’t get behind considering the “enemies” part of the trope was truly just misogyny. Unfortunately, this is not unique to books set in the 50s and continues to be a common device in modern romance novels.
Other times, the author twists romance into a dark fantasy where abuse becomes a lazy tool to spur conflict, normalizing the idea that acting violent or manipulative is part of a passionate relationship. No one is more guilty of playing into this trope than popular romance author Colleen Hoover. In an attempt to avoid predictability––an issue so pertinent in modern romance novels––Hoover makes her love interests morally grey and mysterious. This, coupled with poor prose and unnecessary twists, makes her novels buzzy and popular.
You may ask: Sofia, why do you keep reading these books if all you’re going to do is complain about them? Because I’m a hater! And of course, there is a part of me that hopes I will find a love story that will hold up against Normal People by Sally Rooney or Writers & Lovers by Lily King. These novels are extremely popular, and for good reason—the main characters and love interests are three-dimensional, complex individuals with real obstacles to their relationships. The stories are raw, powerful, and more importantly, make you root for the characters to be together, despite their flaws. I understand that not every love story can rise to the prestige of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. But seriously, if I have to read another miscommunication trope that could have been resolved in a single text message, I might have to give up reading romance forever.