The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft
This book is at the far end of romance. It is about a failed marriage and divorce, but every good divorce story orignates from a love story. Craft has written a story about love that dies a slow death. Since the tragedy of any divorce is grounded in the loss of true intimacy, as a romance writer, this premise is worth looking at.
The story takes place during the course of the day of Jeff, the husband's, suicide standoff. Ronnie, our protagonist, has filed for divorce from the man she still calls the love of her life. And despite his many faults, Jeff clearly loves Ronnie in the best way he can. Still, after years of steady downslide, all markers of a happy marriage have faded. Alcoholism seems to be at the root of their problems, but even this assumption is called into question as the plot unfolds. So many anecdotes from this marriage suggest that this was true love many years ago, the kind of love found in romance novels, the kind that can save both Jeff and Ronnie from the loneliness and depression that they have suffered from. But in the end, it doesn't. Instead of ending in happily ever after, the reader slowly realizes that at this stage Jeff and Ronnie's story cannot end happily, no matter what choices the characters make.
The story is larger than just Jeff and Ronnie's. Both their mothers get a perspective, and their own stories are relevant to the course of events as well. But Jeff's story is never really told or clearly explained. This is intentional, and it shows the line between romance and tragedy. In many ways, Jeff is the "perfect" romance hero at the beginning of the relationship, and he loves Ronnie with the kind of intensity and devotion that would make Christian Grey proud. But after 12 years of marriage, this love isn't enough.
Romance novels often end with a moment of true connection, where the hero and heroine finally begin down the road of togetherness. But this book suggests that even storybook romance isn't enough to chase away problems left unattended. A relationship based on true love isn't immune to total distruction. The events in The Far End of Happiness are made even more poignant by the author's note that they are based on event in the author's own life. Craft tells the story of love and tragedy that could even be called a counter-story to a romance novel, the way romance can and does also end.