Melissa Zeiger, Dartmouth College
Over the last twenty years, breast cancer novels have quietly become a large subgenre within popular romance, reflecting both the increase in public breast cancer awareness and the commercialization of that awareness. The emergence of this subgenre both reflects and participates in a shift of what is acceptable to say about breast cancer and expands the range of romance novel topics, including, among other innovations, cancer narratives for lesbian and African American characters. While still liable to many of the criticisms leveled by feminists in the 1980s and beyond, romances can tell new stories as well as the old ones, expanding an inadequate set of cultural and emotional vocabularies. The space for feeling that this genre opens has produced a new reading community and is at least one of the major ways that romance has been and continues to be rewritten. Contradictory movements have accompanied greater freedoms in discussing breast cancer, and this essay argues that feminists can find in romance novels a powerful site, supplementary to feminist theory and activism, for elaborating a productive and critical public breast cancer discourse.