City vs. country

So I was reading Roger Ebert’s review of  “Friends with Kids” today and the last paragraph caught my attention.

Yes, and we all know where the plot is headed, anyway, because if there’s one thing we know about a rom-com, it’s that conventional values invariably must win in the end.

Now, I have no intention of watching this movie, but I thought he had an interesting point there, and it can certainly apply to written romances, erotic ones or otherwise. Two specific things came to mind for me: country vs. city, and families.

1. Country > City (i.e., country life/town is better than city life)

In many stories, a citified/urban character — and it can be male or female — will have to go to the country. They will be visiting a relative, doing a business stint, going back to the town/farm/whatever that they swore they’d never come back to. They miss their concerts, their (overpriced) gourmet coffees, etc. They meet the old girlfriend or boyfriend, or the new person in town, but are adamant that they will leave and return to the city when their time is done. However, if “conventional values” must win, a Mr. Ebert says, then you know they won’t. They will decide that fresh air, wide open spaces and etc. are better for a person than the big, bad, city.

I would like to stick up for the cities. I grew up in the southern NJ suburbs, so the closest city to us was Philadelphia. We were fans of the Philly teams, and in grammar school we took a field trip to the historical area. We didn’t go there often, but Philly always felt a little like “my city.” After college, I moved to Washington, DC. I loved it.

I absolutely loved being able to do so much stuff on my own — I had no car or anything. I could walk to my school, I could take the Metro to work, I could do either to the museums on the Mall. It was excellent. I was (thanks to my aunt, with whom I lived while going to grad school) able to go to the Kennedy Center and see James Galway. A few years later I saw a play at the Arena Stage. Friends took me and my then-fiancee to the free Shakespear in the Park. I would hit the museums on my weekdays off, because the crowds were thinner. It was just fun. Even though I don’t drink coffee.

I am not trying to say that country, or non-city life, is dull. Life is what you make of it. But cities do tend to offer more things like that for a person, more cultural opportunities, more things to see and do. Yet in romances, cities are almost always the place that someone leaves. People are presented as less genuine, more harried, more self-centered, and surely there are people like that in cities. but there are also good, friendly, generous people — just as I’m sure there are less-than-perfect people in rural areas.

2. Big, nosy families > small, not-so-nosy families

I should clarify here that I’m not talking about characters who have been orphaned or are estranged from their families. I guess I should also make a disclaimer that I’m something of a private person, and like to decide who I tell what, and why and when.

So I get pretty annoyed reading stories where someone from, let’s say, a ‘quiet’ family gets involved with a big noisy family — that family is usually of Italian or Greek descent — and they are not just noisy, but nosy. Moms and aunts and dads and uncles are forever getting into the business of the younger generation, especially where romance is concerned. The Nosy Family Person shrugs and looks apologetically at Quiet Family Person and things move along. QFP is almost always steamrolled along into some Nosy Family project, such as preparing a meal or cleaning a room or house. In the course of the developing relationship, QFP is subject to subtle and obvious questioning, and generally manage to bite their tongues and be polite.

This would drive me nuts. Sure, there will be questions when you meet someone and their family and I’ve no objection to that. But you know the stories I mean. When the news that someone made a mistake, or was embarrassed, gets around faster than the speed of light within the family. When a character is surprised that someone twice-removed from the protagonist is as familiar with the situation as they themselves are, and offer a whole lot of unsolicited advice.

This is not necessarily good. There should be boundaries, and privacy, and I for one would like to see a character say, “You know, Mrs. Jones, I’m not comfortable talking about that.” Or, “Mr. Smith, I understand you want the best for your daughter, but I don’t appreciate being judged guilty before I’ve done anything.”

I just want Quiet Family Person to make the point that Noisy and Nosy isn’t always Better. That boundaries don’t mean disrespect, and respect doesn’t mean you’ll tell someone every damn thing. I’d like QFP to tell NFP, “Your family is great, but I could use a little space.”

I love families, I do. 🙂 I think whether you have a big noisy one or a small quiet one doesn’t matter, so long as there’s a lot of love and trust and support going on. But I have to say that when I read these books and see these elements repeated, I’d like to see one where NFP says, hey, you know, a quiet family is just as nice as mine.

And a quiet city family is pretty cool, too. 🙂

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lady Falcon on March 9, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    In Rhythm and The Blue Line (wondering when the next chapter will be posted?) your two main characters are from decidedly different families. You have the wonderful supportive family (WSF) and the obtuse unsupportive family (OSF). There has to be a conflict to be solved to make a story, yes? It’s a device of story telling. There all all kinds of patterns in stories just like when listening to a song you can sometimes pick out a measure or two that you’ve heard in another song. There are only so many ways things can be put together – therein lies the challenge of being an artist or creative person.

    Reply

    • Oh, I’m all for conflict. You’re right that things like that — different family types — add to the conflict in a book. My point is that in my experience, “big noisy families” always win out over the other kind. It’s be nice if a person from a big family could appreciate, and at times perhaps prefer, the points of a quiet family. And that country life always wins out over city life. I’d like to write stories (added to my endless queue) where the opposite happens. I want someone from a rural area to go to a city and love it; I want someone from a city to go to the country, realize it has its advantages, but that they are a city person at heart.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Lady Falcon on March 11, 2012 at 12:35 am

    I think you answered yourself then…better get another sheet of paper that queue is getting long. 🙂 I have no doubt you are up to the challenge.

    Reply

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