So tonight I finished Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts. There's an excellent review of it here at AAR. I loved that the reviewer called the series "wedding porn." Yeah, it's definitely that. All-in-all this proved to be an enjoyable, lighthearted series that celebrates love and the best of our WASP-ish wedding traditions. The books are heavy on various elements of weddings and the wedding planners who make them happen. The level of romance varies, and I think HEA is the lightest when it comes to the romantic relationship--in this case between Parker & Malcolm. That's actually a tad disappointing, because after the 3 previous books, Parker had the biggest buildup to be heroine in her own story.
There's a sentence in that AAR review that got me to thinking:
Add that to the fact that four best friends are living together in a mansion (weren’t you planning to do that?), and you cover a lot of fantasy ground.
Besides the excellence of Roberts' writing (let's just say that's a given and put that aside), ultimately I think what made this series so captivating for me wasn't the individual romances but the fantasy of four young women who have been friends forever, remain friends, and somehow at the end of the day find themselves living together in what I will call a 21st century commune. There's a throw-away line toward the end of Parker's book about how one day there will be a ton of children running around the Brown family estate. Sounds like a commune to me.
Anyhow, I got to thinking about that word "fantasy" which led me to thinking of "utopia." Here are some the elements of perfect and ideal found in the books:
- Four women remaining such tight friends since the time they were children and enjoying a level of emotional intimacy that I suspect is actually rather rare.
- Heroes who do not seem to mind the relationship the women have. Additionally they seem willing and able to pitch in and help at events (setting up/tearing down) even though one assumes the business hires helpers for all of that labor.
- Money does not seem to be a worry (Mansion, remember?).
- Plenty of clients for the business. None of the clients seem to worry about money either.
- Mrs. Grady is like the ever-present fairy godmother dispensing food and good advice at the drop of a hat. (I want one of those!)
- Incredibly talented heroines who excel at what they do for the business. They solve every problem thrown their way. No disasters allowed here.
- An awful lot of champagne is consumed, especially in book 4.
If you've read the books, you can probably think of more examples.
Let me be clear. I love the fantasy. I devoured these books.
But in the end they weren't all terribly romantic and if it's romance you're expecting I'd say that the books are quite a bit more and quite a bit less, if that makes sense. Weddings are a celebration of romantic love. So all of the focus on the weddings reminds us of the ideal of romantic love, and not necessarily the gritty day-to-day reality of building and maintaining a romantic relationship over time. There's just enough about each of the four couples to convince us that each couple will enjoy a HEA, but probably not as much as a dedicated romance reader might wish for. Your mileage may vary, of course.