Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor
Normally, romantic relationships in books seem almost too good to be true, the couple so perfectly matched that it seems like destiny. But the other day I was reading a book, and I wound up thinking, “Man, he can do so much better than her!” And the more I thought about it, the more common I realized this was.
This article is cathartic, in a way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends date people I thought were losers. I can’t exactly tell them that…or maybe I could, but I’d risk losing the friendship. But fictional people are exactly that. They can’t get angry at me when I criticize their significant others. (Nor can they beat me up, which—to be honest—is a concern with some of my friends.)
So today, I’m going to tell my fictional friends exactly what I think of their guys and gals:
The one who deserves better: Sadie Danning from Broken by Megan Hart.
The other half: Adam Danning, her husband.
One of the things I love about Megan Hart’s books is that her relationships are always so complex, her characters always so flawed and human. This book has haunted me for a long time. There’s so much love—and hate—between Adam and Sadie Danning that it’s almost painful to read. After Adam is paralyzed in a skiing accident, Sadie becomes his primary caretaker. But Adam is often cruel, taking out his anger and depression on Sadie. True, a major accident like Adam’s would strain even the strongest marriage. But when we flash back to the early days of their relationship, we see that Adam was domineering and often selfish long before his accident, and you wonder whether they were ever the soulmates Sadie thought he was. If Sadie were my friend, I’d tell her to toughen up, not to put up with Adam’s bullshit, to stop internalizing Adam’s pain as her own.
The one who deserves better: Fanny Price from Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.
The other half: Edward Bertram, the cousin she secretly pines for.
Austen was ahead of her time, writing about romantic love in an era when marriages of economic convenience were encouraged and expected. Maybe that’s why Mansfield Park seems like such a letdown. Fanny Price secretly longs for her cousin Edmund for years, but he falls in love with the prettier, more charming Mary Crawford. But Mary isn’t a suitable wife for a clergyman, and Edmund ultimately marries Fanny instead. Fanny isn’t the most vivacious or likeable of Austen’s heroines, but I still felt like she deserved better than Edmund. Edmund’s attitude always struck me as, “Well, I can’t have the girl I really want, so I guess I’ll take you instead.” If Fanny were my friend, I’d tell her that she should hold out for someone better. After all, you’re better off alone than in an unsatisfactory marriage. (Though my 21st century feminist attitudes probably wouldn’t work so well in Regency England.)
The one who deserves better: Edgar Linton from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
The other half: Catherine Earnshaw Linton, his wife.
Oh, sure, everyone remembers the tempestuous love story between Catherine and Heathcliff. But very few people remember that Edgar Linton was actually her husband. And really, he wasn’t a bad sort. Maybe a little naïve, maybe a little too preoccupied with material things, but really not a bad guy. And since Catherine and Heathcliff are both major jackasses throughout the story, Edgar is really the only one wronged, first by his emotionally manipulative wife and then by Heathcliff, who essentially kidnaps his sister and daughter. If I were his friend, I’d tell him to get over Catherine. Regency era or not, life on a remove outpost or not., I’m sure Edgar—with his good looks and money—wouldn’t be lacking for female companionship or
The one who deserves better: Dorian, the Oak King, from Shadow Heir by Richelle Mead.
The other half: Eugenie Markham, his on-again/off-again girlfriend.
The book that inspired this article. Fey king Dorian made his interest in Eugenie clear from the first book. From there on out, he puts up with an awful lot. She spurns him, mistrusts him, betrays him, even cheats on him. But Dorian forgives her, again and again and again, even taking her in when she becomes pregnant with twins…by someone else. Still, I rooted for Dorian and Eugenie. I mean, Dorian was no angel either. He excelled at manipulation, and Eugenie had some good reasons for her reluctance to trust him. Still, when Eugenie—MAJOR SPOILER ALERT—opted not to tell him that he was the father of her twins, opting to hide them in the human world instead, I couldn’t help but doubt the very foundation of their relationship. And since Shadow Heir is presumably the last book in the series, we don’t even get to see how it plays out. If Dorian were my friend…well, if Dorian were my friend, I’d be inviting him back to my apartment for a nightcap. Because…well because he’s yummy.