In a previous post, I loftily announced that I wanted to write literary, as opposed to mainstream or genre, fiction. But doesn’t all fiction, ultimately, have a genre—even if it is simply “realistic,” as opposed to, say, mystery, humor, or horror? Ray Bradbury wrote works of science fiction and fantasy, but they were also, unarguably, literature. (How else could they have ended up on so many syllabi?) Pride and Prejudice is a comedy of manners. Wuthering Heights is a gothic novel (though my husband would dispute its literary merit). To Kill a Mockingbird is a Bildungsroman (word-of-the-day alert!), as is Great Expectations. Catch-22 is a war novel and satire. Around the World in Eighty Days is a classic adventure novel. I could go on and on, but I haven’t read that many books.
After finishing The Scarlet Letter in college, I remember feeling raw, copious admiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne. And jealousy. “This is the book I wish I had written,” was my strange thought—as if my chance to write had come and gone, or what I wanted to write had already been written. If you haven’t read the novel, or if you have seen the Demi Moore movie, The Scarlet Letter is a love story set in Puritan Boston in the seventeenth century, two hundred years before the author’s time. Not until I started writing this blog post did I realize that my seemingly random decision to pen a historical romance (I prefer romantic comedy) might have been a subconscious response to my Hawthorne envy.
At first, I wondered if a romance set during the Holocaust would be considered taboo. A search on Amazon for Holocaust romances in the category of historical fiction yielded 27 results. One such novel tells the story of a young girl in the Polish underground who develops feelings for a Nazi officer. Another portrays the love between a captured British captain and a Jewish housewife from Dresden, both sent to the same concentration camp. Perhaps the most salacious story line follows the relationship between a camp commandant and the Jewish inmate he takes as his mistress. So Holocaust romance is not uncharted territory; at the same time, the market hardly seems glutted.
But I haven’t mentioned that my plot has a twist, a metaphysical one. By “metaphysical” I mean concerned with an ethereal world beyond the material. Metaphysical fiction is its own genre, with prominent examples including The Alchemist, The Celestine Prophecy, What Dreams May Come, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and Cloud Atlas (being released this Friday as a movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry). Which brings me back to Hawthorne. Metaphysical elements recur in his works, including the “ghastly miracle” revealed at the climax of The Scarlet Letter: a red “A” (speaking of taboo) seared into Reverend Dimmesdale’s chest by a higher power. So with a metaphysical historical romance, I am still copycatting Hawthorne.
However, an Amazon search for metaphysical historical romances about the Holocaust revealed zero results. Let’s chart this territory!