The Freshest Love Story This Season Isn’t a Romance | IPNovels.com
Roger Thomas talks about sex, love, commitment, and his new novel, "The Accidental Marriage"
In the wake of theExtraordinary Synod on the Family, there has been a renewed interest in talking about marriage and family—especially marriages and families that are in irregular situations. In Roger Thomas’s new novel, The Accidental Marriage, he traces a coupling that follows a highly irregular path.
Scott and Megan are both involved in separate same-sex relationships. When Megan and her lover decide to have a child, Scott offers to help. But after Megan is abandoned, Scott comes up with an unconventional plan to help her in her time of need. As the two begin to mutually sacrifice their own desires to help one another, their friendship deepens.
Ignatius Press Novels talked with Roger via e-mail. You can find a previous interview with him here.
You’ve described your book as being a love story, not a romance. What’s the difference?
Thomas: There are many types of love, a topic covered masterfully in the classic The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. Romantic love, eros, is only one of them. There are also friendship, familial love, the kind of camaraderie that’s found when people are thrown together for a purpose, such as being shipmates. In The Accidental Marriage, the foremost type of love exhibited is friendship. This leads Scott and Megan to do some interesting things, some of which aren’t normally part of a friendship, but all that arises from the assumptions they’re making about the nature of life and human relationships. But the love they have is genuine, and ends up demanding a lot from both of them, even if it doesn’t fit the cultural concept of “being in love”.
Romance novels are immensely popular, including among Catholics and Christians. Some of these books, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, are obviously problematic for a whole host of reasons. But even more “chaste” romance novels and movies carry messages of “one true love” that seems to emphasize emotional satisfaction over a more sacrificial understanding of relationships. What ideas from this genre are ones that you think are harmful?
Thomas: I recently learned that there’s a whole sub-genre of books, mostly published by Christian publishing houses, known in the trade as “bonnet fiction”. These are romances set either a few generations back, or somewhere like Amish country, and thus are free of any hint of modern licentiousness. But even without any sexually explicit material, there’s still a danger to these stories. I remember being amazed when, a few decades ago, I was at a conference and a woman minister stated that romance novels can fill the same role for some women as pornography does for men. I asked my wife and she confirmed it, pointing out that even though the images are verbal instead of visual, the function is the same: creating false images to distract people from the reality they have to deal with in everyday life. Today there are lines of romance novels that have incorporated sexually explicit content, becoming in effect soft core pornography. But I think the core allure remains the same, whether the characters are wearing bonnets or nothing: the creation of a false reality in which the readers can live and indulge in fantasies about people and how they react.
Let me give an example. I’ve not read the Fifty Shades books and don’t intend to, but from the plot synopses they seem like a variation of a common theme in romance novels, the “Beauty and the Beast” motif. In these, there is some troubled man who just needs the love of a good woman to redeem him from himself. The man is often shown as having a beastly side and a noble side, and may have had very immoral relationships with other women, but in the story, by virtue of True Love, the heroine manages to eventually appeal to his noble side, even if she has to accommodate his beastly side along the way.
This theme represents a false understanding of human nature. I am a man who has dealt with men all my life. There’s a certain accuracy to the idea that we have a beastly side and a noble side, but I can assure all woman that the way to help us men isn’t by accommodating our beastly appetites. If a man finds a woman who’ll meet him on his beastly side, he will not be helped by that woman – instead he will drag her down to his beastliness. Women can help men, but by appealing to their noble instincts, by calling them away from their beastliness and into the responsibility and sacrificial love they were made to express.
This is where The Accidental Marriage differs. It isn’t a romance; Megan doesn’t set out to “redeem” Scott in any way. They’re two friends thrown together by circumstances which force Scott especially to step up to responsibility and duty in a way he has never had to before. Scott responds from his noble side, but the only pressure he feels is internal. In this, I’ve hoped to create a story that reflects how people actually are, rather than how we’d like them to be.
At the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family, there was much controversy and discussion about some of the proposals regarding same-sex couples, divorced and remarried couples, and persons with same-sex attraction. Some critics believed these proposals showed a preoccupation with the symptoms of what is a deeper underlying problem—to quote the authors of the recent Ignatius Press book The Gospel of the Family: “If there is a pandemic, either you attack the hotbed of the infection or else any treatment will be useless.” What do you think the underlying problem is?