I haven’t read a romance that knocked my socks off this week, but I did an interview, and one of the questions asked me for my favorite romance couples — from a classic romance, a historical romance, and a contemporary romance.
I scratched my head for a long time over the “classic” one. I’ve read my share of literary classics, but I can’t think of a single one with a romance that makes me swoon. Really, Jane Austen comes closest, but I don’t actually swoon over the romance in Austen novels. I swoon over the cutting social commentary and the witty dialogue. Dickens’s Great Expectations is one of my favorite novels, and I love love love Pip, but Estella? Ugh. No, thank you.
In the end, I answered that my favorite classic romance couple is Celie and Shug Avery from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. It’s a classic of African American lesbian-feminist fiction! Close enough!
Here’s the blurb —
Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to “Mister,” a brutal man who terrorizes her. Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister’s letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self.
The Color Purple was the first grown-up book that I read way too young. It affected me deeply, even though I barely understood it. When the movie came out in 1985, I was eight, and my parents took me to see it, because I had already read and loved the book. (In retrospect, considering the content of the book/film, I can hardly believe this happened. But yes. I had, and they did. And I loved the movie, too, though I loved it in a different way.)
I haven’t read The Color Purple in years, but I probably read it two dozen times before I went to college. It’s a story about abuse and its legacies. Anger and soul. Forgiveness and truth. It’s about sex and babies and families and the deep scars that history leaves. It’s about love and redemption.
It’s not a romance novel, but it’s a really beautiful book. If you’ve never read it, you should — if for no other reason than that it contains my favorite classic romance.