Diving Deeper Into Love: Romance Novels, Part II
Reading Women with Sachi Argabright and Kendra Winchester
Reading Women is a weekly podcast where women discuss books by or about women. Each month features two episodes on the same theme—one highlighting a range of titles and one discussing two titles more in depth—and two author interviews with talented women writers.
This week, Sachi Argabright and Kendra Winchester continue their discussion of romance novels, focusing more in depth on An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and First Comes Marriage by Huda Al-Marashi.
Kendra Winchester: What is a romance novel? To answer our question, it is not Fifty Shades of Grey. A romance novel is a novel with, first off, a happy ending. Obviously, it’s love between two people, but it can have a wide range of what we’re going to call “the spectrum of sexy times.” It can be anything from an inspirational romance novel like the Amish romance novels that my mom loves to something closer to erotica.
Now when you’re get into erotica, it can have sub-genres where it doesn’t have a happy ending but we’re just going to separate that into its own little thing. Whatever your preference, there is something for you. There are paranormal romance, historical romance, and almost anything you can imagine.
Unlikable characters make this story a better book
KW: The emotional reactions that people had were very intense for some of these conversations, and I think that’s a real testament to Tayari Jones’s writing style. She can really provoke these very polarizing emotions from a wide audience. Even though I didn’t favor one character over the other, I was able to understand the motivations for each character through the various point of views. To be honest, every character is flawed in their own way—there were numerous parts in the book where I thought, what are they doing . . . but to get such different reactions from so many people makes the book so interesting and makes me eager to discuss it with more people.
The recurring image of the waiting woman
KW: The waiting woman on a husband is a trope we’ve had in literature since almost the beginning of time. Penelope in The Odyssey waiting for Odysseus. I kept thinking about that. I was always so mad that Odysseus just assumed that she would wait for him, and the complications of that assumption versus their love and their marriage and what was going on with that.
Celestial is in a similar situation where, for all she knows, her husband is going to be in there for the majority of his life. Is she going to wait for him, or is she not? It’s a similar situation, and I think Tayari Jones is a much more contemporary interpretation of that but there’s also complications, obviously, of the American criminal justice system. It’s an interesting trope of women waiting for men, but she takes a totally fresh perspective on it.
Sachi Argabright: To your points, it’s almost like with Odysseus the female character is only to become an accessory of the male protagonist, and it’s just an assumption made that this is the viewpoint and stereotype that we have for women. You know, when the man goes away they’re just supposed to sit there dutifully and wait and be extremely excited when they come home.
In this case, in An American Marriage, you get Celestial’s thoughts throughout the process and she herself talks about how she’s a very independent person is strong-willed and kind of stubborn and how that clashes with the fact that she wants to be her own person and have her own career but she’s also tied to Roy through this marriage where they can’t be apart and it really deteriorates even further from their rocky start that’s very evident from the first chapters. It is a thought-provoking work of contemporary fiction of a trope that’s been around for a very long time.
KW: All young adults have to realize their parents aren’t perfect. In the case of religion, they are your spiritual mentors, essentially. It’s like, my parents might have gotten this part of religion wrong, and having to accept that and process that is very much part of this book because she made a lot of assumptions about her religion and how that would affect her marriage and how that was actually wrong.
SA: Towards the end of the book, she looks back on the early parts of her life and why she was contemplating whom she wanted to marry. She discusses how some of the comments and advice she got from family members she took more literally than what family members were intending . . . when you’re that young and so impressionable you’re really hanging on these mentors to make these key life decisions. Sometimes stuff gets lost in translation and are playing this kind of Telephone with your family because they’re really shaping your interpretation, and I thought the self-reflection towards the end of the book was really insightful.
Mentioned in this Episode
Agata’s “9 Romance Novels for Beginners” Post · Love Between the Covers Documentary · 7 Things I wish More People Understood about My Arranged Marriage · Video on Why Huda Wrote Her Memoir · Interview with Huda: On Likeability in the Memoir · First Comes Marriage by Huda Al-Marashi · An American Marriage by Tayari Jones