So, I read…Verified Strangers by Lena Dunham

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

So, I read Verified Strangers, Lena Dunham’s romance novel after reading this article and reading the subsequent Twitter hubbub .

Well, let me not lie. I read parts of it. For pandemic me, reading twenty chapters of anything is an investment of time and space. Right now, I cannot give up that much time for most things I want to do.

Alas, I read most of it and most of the press about the novel.

Here are my thoughts:
A. I don’t think she understands the convention of the romance novel. (That’s apparent in her Twitter explanation about the serial novel. She listed Forever by Judy Blume and Danielle Steele books as romances. That is a stretch. Her reference points lean to women’s fiction, and there is nothing wrong with that. But those ain’t romances.) A happy ending (don’t Google that term) is required for a romance novel. That is how the Romance Writers of America defines what a romance novel is. That is the expectation that romance readers want, which is how you can tell a romance fan from the people who like The Notebook. With all of the digital ink spilled about this being a romance, I can tell that Romancelandia is not her realm.

B. I expected the story would be awful, but I was surprised. The story was not bad. She can write. I would expect that from the creator of Girls. But platform does not trump convention or happily ever afters

C. People voted on what they wanted to happen next. (According to the Hollywood Reporter article, “After the chapter is published each day, readers will be able to vote on the Vogue Instagram account on where the story should go next, a decision that Dunham will abide by.”) But when the people choose for the story to end in a haphazard puke of words, sentiment, and non-declarations of love for now, it is not a romance.

D. I stan an artist who is always on their grind like bad brakes on an old-school box Chevy. Lena Dunham is one of these people. I don’t immerse myself in a lot of her work, and I find her to be a bit precious and privileged. But she knows how to keep her name out there and how to be creative in spite of obstacles and resistance. I respect that.

E. Have mercy. It has an average ranking of 2.7. I feel infinitely better about my work. Everything cannot be a home run. Every book can’t be a five-star bestseller and award winner.

F. It’s brave to take direction from readers.Writing an interactive romance novel is daring. But it is not new. Serialized fiction has existed. Serialization like The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, and Dickens interests her, and she said so herself. She’s not a pioneer, but she is credited in significant articles for “her innovation.” Le sigh.

G. Vogue should have given the space and virtual ink and publicity to an actual romance writer or celebrity fan.

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