WHEN BOOKS ARE your life—or in my case, your job— you get pretty good at guessing where a story is going. The tropes, the archetypes, the common plot twists all start to organize themselves into a catalogue inside your brain, divided by category and genre.
The husband is the killer.
The nerd gets a makeover, and without her glasses, she’s smoking hot.
The guy gets the girl—or the other girl does.
Someone explains a complicated scientific concept, and someone else says, “Um, in English, please?”
The details may change from book to book, but there’s nothing truly new under the sun.
Take, for example, the small-town love story.
The kind where a cynical hotshot from New York or Los Angeles gets shipped off to Smalltown, USA—to, like, run a family-owned Christmas tree farm out of business to make room for a soulless corporation.
But while said City Person is in town, things don’t go to plan. Because, of course, the Christmas tree farm—or bakery, or whatever the hero’s been sent to destroy—is owned and operated by someone ridiculously attractive and suitably available for wooing.
Back in the city, the lead has a romantic partner. Someone ruthless who encourages him to do what he’s set out to do and ruin some lives in exchange for that big promotion. He fields calls from her, during which she interrupts him, barking heartless advice from the seat of her Peloton bike.
You can tell she’s evil because her hair is an unnatural blond, slicked back à la Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, and also, she hates Christmas decorations.
As the hero spends more time with the charming baker/seamstress/tree farm . . . person, things change for him. He learns the true meaning of life!
He returns home, transformed by the love of a good woman. There he asks his ice-queen girlfriend to take a walk with him. She gapes, says something like, In these Manolos?
It will be fun, he tells her. On the walk, he might ask her to look up at the stars.
She snaps, You know I can’t look up right now! I just got Botox!
And then he realizes: he can’t go back to his old life. He doesn’t want to! He ends his cold, unsatisfying relationship and proposes to his new sweetheart. (Who needs dating?)
At this point, you find yourself screaming at the book, You don’t even know her! What’s her middle name, bitch? From across the room, your sister, Libby, hushes you, throws popcorn at your head without lifting her gaze from her own crinkly-covered library book.
And that’s why I’m running late to this lunch meeting.
Because that’s my life. The trope that governs my days. The archetype over which my details are superimposed.
I’m the city person. Not the one who meets the hot farmer. The other one.
The uptight, manicured literary agent, reading manuscripts from atop her Peloton while a serene beach scene screen saver drifts, unnoticed, across her computer screen.
I’m the one who gets dumped.
I’ve read this story, and lived it, enough to know it’s happening again right now, as I’m weaving through late-afternoon foot traffic in Midtown, my phone clutched to my ear.
He hasn’t said it yet, but the hairs on the back of my neck are rising, the pit opening in my stomach as he maneuvers the conversation toward a cartoon-style drop off a cliff.
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