Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Little "Something Borrowed" About Love Triangles

I'll own it: I read a lot of YA and chick lit.  Regarding the former, I'll descend into Hipsterville and say I was devouring teen books way before Twilight blew up (just ask my ex, who thought it was really funny to follow me into that section at Borders).  And as for the latter, I'll be a bad feminist for a second and say that I think the cutesified term for women's fiction is, well, cute.  And unlike the early 2000's, chick lit (or women's fiction, if you're a good feminist) is less all about men and shoes and more about real women dealing with real issues.

Such as falling in love with the last person you're supposed to.

The love triangle is a tale as old as time and one frequently visited in YA, chick lit, and romance (another genre I adore).  The thing about the love triangle?  It is very, very hard to write.  Sure, the stakes are really high (something I constantly struggle with in my own fiction), but how do you NOT make everyone seem like assholes?  You've got the girl who's crossing a major boundary (person/point one), often at the expense of her friend who in lesser love-triangle stories is portrayed as a cartoonish meanie (person/point two), with a guy they may both be better off without (person/point three).

See what I mean?  The potential for a crappy story where the reader hates everyone and ends up throwing the book across the room (um, not that I've ever done this, Chicago Public Library, I swear) is huge.

Last year I reviewed Something Like Fate, a YA love-triangle story by the darling Susane Colasanti (whose new book, So Much Closer, just came out last week).  I won't rehash the whole review here, but this was a love triangle done right.  The friendship between the two girls was believable.  The boy was simply awesome, if a bit idealized (but hey, who didn't idealize a boy in high school?  If you're like me and grew up surrounded by asshole jocks, it was hard not to put the nice guys on a pedestal).  The sense of "this is so wrong yet so very right" was palpable.  Also?  I didn't want to smack anyone.

Later in the year, I read another YA love triangle, Elizabeth Scott's The Unwritten Rule, and had the very opposite reaction.  Now, Scott's books are hit or miss for me.  I tend to like every other one (Living Dead Girl; Love You Hate You Miss You; Something, Maybe?  Oh yes!  Bloom, Stealing Heaven?  Not so much.)  The Unwritten Rule fell into the unfortunate latter category.  I couldn't stand the protaga-dude and dudette.  I felt like he was a shallow jerk and she was a selfish bitch masquerading as a "good" girl.  I felt that neither of them gave the best friend enough respect or credit: yes, she could be mean, but she also had a pretty terrible home life.  Now, Sarah of Smart Bitches Trashy Books disagrees with me, but even for teenagers, these two were acting pretty horrible in the name of "love" (and I gave them about three months anyway).

Which brings me to a very recent chick-lit read: Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed.

I've seen this book on shelves for years but was never tempted to pick it up.  I think I was turned off by the cover (yes, I'm that shallow).  But Jezebel's been posting the shit out of the new movie version starring Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin, my husband John Krasinski, and some guy who played Erica Kane's aborted fetus on All My Children.  And I was sick at home one day with only my Nook for company, so I figured, why not?

I don't know if I'll see the movie, but I really, really enjoyed the book.

As a "good girl" who struggled to break out of that shell for a really long time, I could relate to Rachel, who spent her life trying to do the right thing (good college, law degree, career), only to end up sleeping with Dex, a fellow law school alum and the fiance of her childhood best friend Darcy.  Sure, Darcy's bitchiness comes off as cartoonish at times, but there's also so much of a history between the two women that I understood why Rachel still considered Darcy her best friend, and vice versa.  What I loved best about Something Borrowed was Rachel's palpable struggle with the whole situation.  She had, in fact, introduced Darcy to Dex when she herself didn't feel worthy of such a great guy.  She knew falling for him in the months before his wedding to Darcy was all kinds of ill-advised.  She had a believable mix of love, loyalty and loathing for her best friend.  This angst, combined with Giffin's breezy writing style, is why I'm currently rereading Something Borrowed.

(Plus, Rachel quotes Creedence Clearwater Revival, one of my favorite bands because I think I'm actually a 50-year-old man.)

Growing up, we're often inundated with "girl code"--you don't go near your friends' boys, even after they've broken it off.  As grown-ups, however, many of us realize that people often meet and fall in love under less than ideal circumstances.  A good love triangle book reminds its readers that what sounds so black and white when you're a kid morphs into shades of gray when you're a teen or an adult.  Either way, there will be tears and scars, but the lucky and genuine ones can emerge with relationships relatively intact.


  1. I was really torn about this book and whether or not to give it a chance. You've pushed me into the "try it" side. Thanks :)

  2. I have been curious about this book; I often pick it up and scan through it when I go to bookstores. I can see what you mean about love triangles; people can't help who they fall in love with, and life and love are definitely more about shades of gray than black and white. But on the other hand, if I was Darcy and my best friend fell in love with my fiance and hooked up with him right before my wedding, I have to say that I'd immediately drop both the friend and the fiance. I know that sounds harsh, but I keep thinking of how it would be if I was in Darcy's position (though I can understand Rachel's position).

  3. noseinanovel: Cool! Let us know what you think!

    NW: I think what I liked best about Something Borrowed is how you really saw Rachel struggle with her actions and the inevitable consequences. She knew the whole time what she was doing was wrong, and her friendship with Darcy had its own set of issues too. I feel that the badly-written love triangle stories have more of a sense of "she deserves it," while the well-written ones are much more nuanced.

    Interestingly, there is a sequel, Something Blue, that is from Darcy's perspective and picks up right where Someting Borrowed leaves off. I have it on my wish list!

  4. I agree! I read it very recently, although I haven't seen the movie yet. I'm hearing a lot of hate for the movie, based more on the plot than on the acting or anything else. As much as the plot might involve "selfish" characters "doing the wrong thing," it came across as very real to me. I could relate to Rachel, and her feelings about her friendship with Darcy seemed completely believable to me, as did the "love triangle." I'm glad to see someone else enjoyed it! :)