Tuesday, October 8, 2019

False Romance

A recent review on Goodreads of my novel The Immortality Game made a similar point of several other reviews, so it made me start thinking about the romantic aspects within that story. I set out to do romance quite differently from what is typical in novels, and I guess people are either confused by it or simply don't like it.
Zoya, art by Stephan Martiniere
The two primary characters of similar age in The Immortality Game are Zoya and Marcus. Zoya is a young Russian woman just trying to get by in a harsh life. Marcus has had it both better and worse in his life as an American living in Phoenix, Arizona. He has no financial difficulties. His father was the most famous scientist in the world. And that is the main problem for Marcus--he was sheltered and very much overshadowed by his superstar dad. Marcus is no dummy, yet he feels very small in comparison to his father, so he has struggled to figure out his place in life. He became one of the billions of Mesh addicts, and probably would have died of it if his father hadn't intervened.

Marcus has been sheltered in the extreme, barely ever going outdoors and almost certainly never speaking with a woman other than his mother. His entire education happened via the web and food and anything else that is needed arrives directly to his door. I purposely made Marcus lacking in self-esteem because I wanted for a change to see a main character that I could personally relate to.

I was so painfully shy when I was young that I didn't date until after graduating college. It's not that I didn't want to but rather that I simply couldn't start a conversation with a girl. If I saw a girl that I found attractive then I automatically assumed she was out of my league. It is painful to go through all your formative years this way, and I had never yet read a book that really gave me a character who went through this.

So I did it with Marcus...and readers don't seem to like it. Or else they don't understand it and act as if there is a real romantic arc in the book that actually isn't there. I'm sorry the readers are confused, but I'm not sorry I wrote it the way I did. I'm tired of standard romances and am glad to do one that rings true to life, at least for my own experiences.

From Zoya's perspective, a romance never made any sense in the story. It all takes place in one day, and it's the worst day of her life. I don't see a romance happening in such a place and time, so I certainly never shoehorned a romance into it. I think where the readers get confused is that the Point of View switches between chapters, so sometimes they are seeing things and thinking and feeling from Zoya's perspective, while at others they are seeing everything through Marcus. Naturally in the thoughts of a single character you are going to see when they notice an attraction to another person, so there are hints of that throughout the book. Marcus clearly is smitten with Zoya from the start. But he never indicates anything of this to her other than subconsciously. He definitely doesn't flirt with her. Alternatively, Zoya is going through hell that day, and barely has a few moments to catch her breath. She does notice certain nice qualities about Marcus, but that's where it stops. She goes no further with it, and it makes no sense for it to go further.

I think the readers forget that they are seeing inside the minds of both characters, so they know the thoughts and feelings of both. But the two characters don't know what each other think and feel. So there is no romance there. Only some budding feelings that never get any chance to bloom. Yet readers keep seeing a romance. Even at the very end of the story, when circumstances change dramatically, I only hint that there now exists the possibility that a romance could potentially happen in the future.

So my point--I guess it frustrates me that readers want to elevate the relationship between Marcus and Zoya to a romance when it really isn't there and isn't meant to be there. Perhaps readers only want the same old cliche romances? Perhaps they don't like real life intruding upon the stories that they feel should go the way they want them to go? They don't like Marcus because of his weaknesses, his lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. Well, a lot of us live like that in real life and I think there should be a place in literature for us to have our stories told.


  1. I think a lot of people like happy endings, and when they don't get one - or the one they expected - they don't like it because it mimics real life. But you're the author. If the story needed to be written this way, then that's what it needed. Nothing wrong with that. You can't please every one.

    1. Interestingly, I think the ending was about as happy a one as could possibly have happened under the circumstance. The complaints I have had in reviews have all centered on the romance and their dislike of Marcus.