Sunday, November 20, 2011

When Being A Romance Reader Gets In The Way

Nothing gets my goat more than when a book is criticized for not being what it never intended to be in the first place.  For example, when I see a mention of a suspense novel where the reader (or reviewer or whomever) says: "The mystery was good, but the hero and his wife are getting a divorce!!!!"

OK, here's the thing cupcake: It's a suspense novel.  The author has one job, one requirement they have to meet - and that is solve the suspense thread.  Period.  End of story.  Personal relationships can be left twisting in the breeze.  Authors can even kill off beloved secondary characters (readers probably won't like it - but the author can still "do it" without breaking The Genre Code).  What the author cannot do?  Is not solve the suspense.  They have to give readers the whodunit. 

The romance genre is a bit different.  Yes, you have to have the happy ending - but fans of the genre also despise loose ends, as a general rule.  So while mystery/suspense authors can get away with leaving personal character relationships "messy" - romance authors?   It's a short leash.

I was a mystery/suspense reader long before I was a romance reader, so I'm pretty good and flipping the genre switches in my brain.  When I sit down to read a suspense novel, I expect certain things.  When I sit down to read a romance novel, I expect other things.  I've always had pride in the fact that I can keep my preferred reading hats in separate boxes in my reading closet.

That is until I read Choke Hold by Christa Faust

I thought I had bound, gagged the romance reader in me, and locked her in the attic - but apparently not.  That sneaky witch somehow managed to slip her bonds, remove her gag and start screaming to beat the band. 

Choke Hold is the second crime novel in Faust's series about ex-porn-star, turned vigilante on the run, Angel Dare.  Obviously when I read her books I expect 1) dark 2) characters with dubious reputations and 3) lots o' violence and dead bodies.  I'm not expecting Sunshine Happy Land.  I have to acknowledge the fact that none of the secondary characters are sacred.  Angel, being the main character, is probably safe from death - but the others?  Yeah, not so much.

However the author makes some choices in this novel that drove my inner romance reader batty.  First, there's an unprotected sex scene.  This sex scene happens after a break in the action where our fair heroine literally escapes with her life.  Adrenaline is surging towards the OMG, We're Still Alive!  Let's Celebrate With Hot Sweaty Sexy Times! spectrum.  I get that.  But the romance reader in me?  She sees "unprotected sex" and immediately thinks, "That bitch is going to end up pregnant, I just know it."

Granted the chances of Angel ending up with a bun in the oven strain considerably - but stranger things have happened.  All I'm saying is if there's another book in this series down the road, and she's either 1) knocked up or 2) has a baby in tow.....

Wendy Mad, Wendy Smash!

However, that wasn't what bothered me the most.  No, in this novel it was the feeling I had that Angel was being exploited.

Yes, yes - I know she's a former porn star.  I know me worrying about her being "exploited" sounds ludicrous.  I also understand that she makes the choices she makes in this book when her back is literally up against a wall.  She doesn't see any other way out. 

However, it didn't stop me from feeling like Angel was more reactive than proactive in this book.  Hence, exploited.

I have no idea if Faust is going to keep going on with the Angel Dare saga, but even with my misgivings with this book, I still appreciated the fact that we had a gutsy, gory, pulpy crime novel with a female lead.  That lead might not have always "behaved" the way I wanted her to - but she was still the star of the show.  That is something, especially in a fictional universe where testosterone has always been king.

Now it's your turn - Have you ever read a book that wasn't a romance, wasn't marketed as a romance - but you still couldn't silence your inner screaming romance fangirl?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

To answer your question: oh PLENTY of times. Karin Slaughter - hello. She pissed me off something fierce. Even with the first Angel Dare book I was like OMG OMG NOOOOOOO! So yeah, it happens. Not always but it does and I can understand your misgivings with THIS book because this writer has a pretty powerful voice so I'm kind of scared to read the book quite frankly but will read it before the year is over. Her last book left such an impression on me and like you said, nothing is off limits. Nothing. Kind of scary.

Keishon

JamiSings said...

*sighs* Okay, not a romance, not even an adult book. But - yeah, the entire Harry Potter series I wanted to see Snape fall in love.

What can I say? I really wanted him to have a happy ending. But noooooo! Rowling had to go and kill him! ARG!

As for baby on board - surely an ex-porn star knows ways to avoid getting pregnant even if she didn't use a condom. How do you know she's not on the birth control shot or has one of those implants? Or maybe one of those ring thingies you keep in for three weeks?

Anonymous said...

JamiSings -- that's also the Romance Reader at work. We know from experience that heroines are never allowed to use any form of birth control other than condoms or the pill. :-\ -- willaful

JamiSings said...

I wouldn't say that, Anon. I just got done reading a new one called Animal Magnetism where they use a condom every single time except once and he doesn't orgasm until she performs oral on him. So no accidental pregnancies there.

Jo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marguerite Kaye said...

Jackson Brodie PI has had an almost-on not-quite-off relationship with Detective Louise whatshername for three of Kate Atkinson's books now - When Will There Be Good News, One Good Turn, and Started Early Took My Dog.

I just want to scream at them, get a room and get your clothes off, but I know they won't.

Wendy said...

Keishon: Prepare for The Dark Side. After I finished this book, I immediately picked up a HQ Blaze (sadly, a duddy one) because I needed a major dose of "light" and "fun."

Jami: I'm in the process of re-listening to the Potters, and am trying to be disciplined about listening in order.

Willaful: I'd love to see some current statistics. I wouldn't be surprised in the pill and condoms lead in the US - but I know a few years ago I heard the most used method worldwide was the IUD. Not sure if that's the case still....

Marguerite: Those are always the worst, because as the reader you're waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I know I start panicking about the author trumping up more conflict to keep them apart...

Kristie (J) said...

ALL. THE. TIME. That's why I switched to pretty much straight romance. I was looking for love in all the wrong places.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I was clear in my comment. The joke was that you very rarely see a romance heroine use any form of birth control besides the pill or condoms. (The one counter example I can think of was a Rachel Gibson heroine with an IUD.) Perhaps this is different in less mainstream romance from smaller publishers, but in general, this is a very conservative area in romance. In the same way, you will almost never see a heroine use the morning after pill or (gasp) have an abortion. -- willaful

Wendy said...

Willaful: I know I've read a couple of romances where the heroine had an abortion - but it was WELL in her past. Then, of course, it figures somehow into the internal conflict - either she's haunted by it or she is somehow being "punished" for making that choice.

I'm surprised I don't see more variety in BC in erotica. I find some corners of erotic romance a bit conservative (for lack of a better word) - but in erotica, you'd think we'd see more options.....