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[NOTE from Barb: I’m a little obsessed with defining genres, so I started doing short descriptions of various ways to describe different genres, usually accompanied by an aggressively bad example. (The idea is that there will eventually be a books-worth of them, so brace yourselves!) Here’s  a Valentine’s Day themed version from several years back. –Barb]

The Ancient Greeks’ Recipe for Love

As a book reviewer, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how often writers fail to understand the genres they are claiming. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to examine the ancient Greeks’ recipe for the four main types of love.

1. Where the wifi connects automatically—STORGE: love of those we consider to be family.  [The Sea Beast, Netflix]

2. Can’t post your bail because they were arrested with you—PHILIA: love for friends. [Amy Poehler, Parks and Rec]

3. I just want to make you happy…and maybe naked—EROS: romantic love. [Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella]

 

4. The person who has seen you at your worst, thinks of you at your best, and is perfectly willing to tell you which is which (i.e. your hairdresser, sibling, and/or Mom): AGAPE: unconditional love through self-sacrifice.

These love ingredients (or lack thereof) define the basic relationship arcs of every story from the bible to Shakespeare to your annual new year’s resolutions. But as any gourmet knows, a recipe is only a starting place. Even the best ingredients need an artist’s touch to combine them, season, and present them to discerning epicures. How? Let’s take a look at a sample which should probably not be coming to a bestseller list soon.


ALONG CAME LEMUEL

A squishy romance by Milly Boone-Harlequin (With Assistance From The PLOT-GENERATOR)

Hepzibah Heartburn is a liberal feminist kickass cupcake decorator at UEMSTC&BS. (Upper Eastern Mississippi State Trailer Park Cupcake and Bait Shop). Her life is going nowhere until she meets Lemuel Slowburn, a chinless asthmatic with a passion for Wordle.

Of course, Hepzibah takes an instant dislike to Lemuel—not so much because he has the intelligence of carpet lint (some of her best friends have trouble speaking in full sentences or spelling the word ‘queue’) but because word around town is that he’s a closet conservative who has been known to wear designer loafers with tassels, and perhaps even the occasional sweater vest.

However, when an internet troll tries to take down Hepzibah’s cupcake business by filling in thousands of fundamentalist religious websites with her business URL and the comment that she would like to hear more of their good news, Lemuel springs to her rescue. Hepzibah begins to notice that while Lemuel outwardly appears to be too conservative to fart unless it’s a bullet point on the Republican Party platform, he listens to vintage Grateful Dead in his car and once even bought a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. After she follows him into a bodega where he orders in Spanish, Hepzibah realizes she’s falling for him.

But Lemuel decides not to expose Hepzibah to the dangers of his job (Freelance Toilet Wrangler, on-call 24/7 to capture snakes, alligators, and supernatural creatures that come up through bathroom plumbing), so he friend-zones her. Despondent, Hepzibah sits in the dark sucking down Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream (Karamel Sutra Core) directly from the carton and watching live-cam streaming of large animals in labor. When she misses that weekend’s Women’s March in order to watch April the Giraffe gestating, her two best friends (an actual fluffy lamb and a quirky gay yoga pants designer) stage an intervention and arrange a blind date with playboy cotton-candy maker Ezekiel Hellburn.

After seeing a bouquet of multi-colored cotton candy being delivered to Hepzibah’s house, Lemuel realizes he has to act fast. Donning his hand-knitted pink kitty hat from the Womens March, Lemuel shows Hepzibah proof that Ezekiel not only takes phone calls during theater performances, but also is the official cotton-candy supplier to the National Rifle Association. But is it too little too late? Will Hepzibah and Lemuel ever find the squishy love they deserve?

FOUR LOVES GENRE NOTES:

  • If Lemuel and Hepzibah meet every day at the bodega, and over their cemitas and tortas they talk about the difficulties of getting gluten-free responsibly-harvested organic frosting dye or the best ways to humanely trap a toilet poltergeist, they have PHILIA.
  • If Hepzibah’s BFFs (actual baby lamb, and yoga pants designer) are her family-of-choice, the ones who remember her birthday with awkward ‘surprise’ parties and even-more-awkward blind dates, they have STORGE.
  • If Hepzibah fantasizes about snogging Lemuel’s chinless er…chin while lying naked atop their phones with that day’s Wordle, that’s just lust (however disturbing). But if she wants to give up YouTube animal birth videos in favor of gestating mini-Lemuels and growing old together, that’s EROS (but still disturbing actually).
  • If Lemuel doesn’t hesitate to stand between the NRA rally and Hepzibah’s Equal Rights March, armed only with his snake-capture loop and a few (humanely trapped) poltergeists, they have AGAPE (and possibly, an issue with PETS—People for Ethical Treatment of Supernaturals).

What’s your favorite love flavor?

All of them together?

Or maybe all you need is one?