Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
If 2010 was my year of reading fantasy, 2011 has been my year of reading romance. And it’s been mostly fun, comfort-food reading. Like any other genre, some romances are stronger than others, with more memorable characters and plots. But one of the problems I often have with the genre is that, as a whole, everything seems to be so easy: the couple meets, they fall in love, there are some obstacles along the way, but they overcome them and live happily ever after.
Then I started to read Megan Hart. Though her books are classified as romance, they seem to transcend genre norms by featuring complex, nuanced characters in situations that cannot be resolved in a simple happily ever after. I’ve read three of her books over the last month, and the one that stuck out as being the most interesting and emotionally resonant of these was Broken.
Sadie is an outwardly normal therapist with a dirty little secret: on the first Friday of every month, she meets a man named Joe for lunch, who tells her stories about the numerous women he’s screwed. Rather than be repulsed by these stories, she’s turned on, fantasizing herself as the heroine in all of Joe’s stories. It becomes her sole form of escape from her difficult life and marriage.
In an average romance, it would be that simple. Sadie’s husband would be a jerk, Joe would obviously be “the one” for her, and the story would be about how Joe and Sadie fall in love and Sadie’s ultimate separation from her husband. But the world Hart created is not that simple. Sadie’s husband, Adam, was injured in a skiing accident several years earlier and was left a quadriplegic. Sadie spends her life devoted to his care. They love one another a lot, but Adam’s injury has clearly taken a toll on their relationship. Adam was once the stronger, more dominant partner, but now he finds himself reliant on Sadie. And while Sadie wants to help her husband, she resents that her life now revolves around his care.
The most emotional scenes in the book are the ones between Sadie and Adam, two people who both love and hate one another in equal measure. I wanted their relationship to succeed, for these two to overcome the obstacles in their way, but as I read more and more of the story I became less and less sure they could…and yet, I still wanted them to. We get to see glimpses of Sadie and Adam’s relationship before the accident, and it wasn’t a rosy picture then, either. Adam could be kind of a jerk, moody and domineering, and Sadie’s inability to assert herself made her seem weak. The fact that they weren’t a perfect, wonderful couple prior to the accident adds more layers and complexity to their already messed-up relationship.
Then there’s Joe. Intuitively, as a reader of romance, it seems like Joe should be the one we’re rooting for. But Joe is not the perfect guy, either. He seems to want a relationship more substantial than the one-night stands he’s been having for decades, but he’s either unwilling or unable to break the patterns of behavior he’s been locked into. The emotions in the scenes he shares with Sadie are more subtle than the ones in the scenes she shares with Adam, but they’re compelling nonetheless. You get the sense that Sadie is someone he could feel something more for, but he knows she’s unavailable so he has sex with every woman he can find instead.
Hart’s books are often classified as “erotic romance,” and Broken certainly fits the “erotic” description. But unlike other erotic romances I’ve read, the sex here is integral to the story. Instead of being used merely for titillation, sex reflects the emotional climate of the story: escapism, desperation, loneliness.
By the time you’re midway through the story, you realize one thing: there is no real happy ending for these characters. Romance novels are usually easy reads. This one is not, and it’s all the better because of it.