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By Chloe Caldwell
Short Flight/Long Drive Books
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
When is it a romance novel and when is it a novel about romance? You've got your Nicholas Sparks and your Danielle Steeles, whose work most would agree isn't great literature, on one side of the equation. But then, you've got everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Lorrie Moore using romance as a center of widely lauded works on the other. So where's the dividing line? How do we distinguish between high art and harlequin romance?
If you ask me, it's all about interiority, which is the whole center of Women. It's built around what might look like a fairly standard romance-novel setup: two characters meet, attraction develops, they fall in love, and complications ensue. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Ah, except there are a couple of key points here that make Women well worth your time. First of all, it's narrated by a writer and presented as an account of the relationship's breakdown, which allows Caldwell to ask about boundaries. With so much talk these days around how writers portray their subjects, this couldn't have come at a better time.
"But wait a minute," you may ask, "Is this a novel or a how-to manual?" Fair enough, so let me sweeten the pot. Not only does the writing-about-writing aspect raise those questions, it also contributes to this novel's remarkable characters. Finn and the narrator, who is never named specifically, are imbibed with an uncommon amount of life. The effect is one of being told a story of a failed romance by a close friend, so much do you come to believe these characters. Not just as two women in love, but as two people who lived before they met and would continue to live afterward. So you could call it a romance novel, but I prefer to think of it as an intensive character study that happens to feature a romance.
Out of 10: 9.0