When I wrote the condom piece a few weeks ago I intended it to be one of my funny posts, but many of you saw red and didn’t actually read the post because I dared to suggest that we imagine a world without condoms. Of course I wasn’t being serious, but that post was like waving a red scarf in front of a bull, and everything after “imagine a world without condoms” was a blur. 🙂 How do I know you didn’t read the post? Because of your comments. So today I’m messing with another controversial topic – the HEA in M/M romances
Most, if not all, M/M romance readers have said time and again on this site and elsewhere that they won’t read a romance unless there’s a happy ending. They go on to say that it’s not a romance unless it has a HEA. It doesn’t matter if the HEA in a book is artificial and manufactured, and is not consistent with the plot and characters, readers refuse to buy M/M romances unless they are guaranteed a happy ending.
We are intelligent enough to recognize when the ending of a book is playing to our desire for a specific outcome but we still want that outcome. Many of you write me to find out whether a specific book reviewed here has a HEA when the reviewer doesn’t explicitly say so in the review. I can’t count the number of emails I received from readers about The Dark Tide by Josh Lanyon when I reviewed the book a few days before it was released, enquiring whether Jake and Adrien had their HEA. I suppose these readers weren’t going to buy the last book in the series if our heroes didn’t stay together in the end, even though they had loved it so far. Is the journey no longer good enough? Must we insist on a happy ever after? Whatever happens to books that buck this trend – do they end up in a scrap heap with other unwanted books? There is pressure on authors from the publishers as well. Publishers don’t want to release a romance book unless the heroes live happily EVAH after because they know that it won’t sell.
Romance is the only genre where readers can dictate what they want in terms of how a book ends. In general fiction an author can pretty well write what he or she wants to write and the books live or die by how well the writer’s prose, dialogue and characters can engage the readers. In M/M romance or any romance for that matter, it doesn’t matter how well written the story is, or how wonderful the journey, readers refuse to buy the books unless they have this most important ingredient, the HEA. Poorly written books get a pass because they give readers the ending they want. We keep asking for fresh ideas in M/M and and not the rehashed tried and true, but how can authors be expected to take risks if they are constrained by readers in this most important area? Almost all “romance” readers demand that the heroes in their books be together at the end. Some books that end with a HFN have readers requesting a sequel. Forget another book with the same protagonists if they end up with someone else – that would never see the light of day. 🙂
There are many M/M love stories that did not provide the outcome that romance readers demand today, yet they continue to be popular and we can’t forget them. These books were written years ago, before there were “romance” readers and therefore they didn’t have to pass the litmus test of a HEA. Some of you have said that if there’s no happy ending it’s not a romance. Well, what about well known and well loved M/M romances such as The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren and Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx? They would never have been written if they had to meet our requirement of a HEA. Those of us who have read these standard bearers know that these books are wonderfully crafted stories that are romances. However, they were written at a time when they had to meet another criterion which was set both by the industry and readers: that gay romances were not consistent with the lifestyles and mores of the day and therefore the books had to meet the litmus test of the “dead ghey.” Do you see where I’m going with this post? Here are a few other classics that might never have been released if they were written in the 21st century, because readers would have insisted on a HEA:
Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
A Single Man – Isherwood – protag dies
As Meat Love Salt – Maria McCann
At Swim Two Boys – Jamie McNeill
The Bitterweed Path – Hal Phillips
Vintner’s Luck – Ellizabeth Knox
Regeneration Trilogy – Pat Barker
While England Sleeps – David Leavitt
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
and my personal favourite Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
This also happened with gay characters in non gay books. For example The Fox by DH Lawrence and the gay angels in His Dark Materials. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is another book that would never have been written if today’s M/M readers had their say!
We have evolved from demanding that gays in romances should be killed off or live unhappily ever after, because to have done otherwise would have been to advocate or promote an alternative lifestyle, and God forbid we should do that, since being gay was thought to be synonymous with an abomination. Consequently gay lovers had to end up dead or at least not be together in the end, because that would send the wrong message and we certainly don’t want that. Now we insist that gay romances must have a HEA or we won’t read them. We seem to have changed direction 180 degrees.
I’m not advocating that we abandon the desire that the protagonists in romances should live happily ever after because I, too, love HEA’s, but I think that books, including romances, should be given a chance to fall or rise on their own merits and not be judged by hard and fast rules that we have set up. Could we not leave it up to the authors to decide occasionally whether it makes sense to tie a big bow at the end of a book and have our heroes go off into the sunset forever? What do you think? Should there not be some flexibility to allow authors to write the stories they want? Are we not stifling their creativity by demanding that every M/M romance or love story have a HEA?
Have your say. Must every.single.M/M romance. have. a. HEA?