Saturday, July 16, 2005

Me and my bright ideas!

Regular readers of this blog will remember that Chris Mikesell was one of the people who took me up on my Romance Novel Challenge. I read the book Chris recommended, Stephen King's Misery, and Chris was to read a romance novel. Any romance novel. I'd heard that his wife has lots, so I advised him to just grab one from her bedside table and get busy reading. He snagged Jude Deveraux's Enchanted Land.

It didn't go well. Here's an excerpt from Chris's June 30 blog entry:

Now I'm 20% of the way through and have just read three chapters of Morgan vacillating on her attitude toward Seth. He's so hunky ... but mama warned me about men ... but he's soooo hunky ... but .... Seth is also by turns hot and cold toward Morgan: you're a tease ... you're a bit--

Yeah, I think we get the drift. Let's skip down a little.

Is this typical of Romance novels? Are all heroines so bipolar: supremely confident yet insanely naive? Are all plots so free of conflict and what conflict they do have neglects to involve consequences for failure (i.e., actual stakes)? Sure Morgan and Seth are all conflicted, but so what? If she maintains her "strictly business" position she gets the Kentucky estate. If she and Seth do get together she gets Seth and the Kentucky estate. She wins either way, or am I as a reader supposed to hope she will cave and see hunky Seth for all he has to offer her (which so far just seems to be sex) and get all squirmy when it looks like maybe she won't. Is that what passes for "well-written" romance? Is that's what expected of me as a romance reader?

By this point I was cringing. Chris continued:

...I'd like to read a romance that I'd like, and so far this book ain't it. Having picked this somewhat by random, I have little problem picking another. As this book is 25 years old, maybe it's too far out of "contemporary" to be relevant to goals of the challenge.

So, if this is a typical romance, I'll go on. If not, I've found a copy of Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts, which Kirkus Reviews describes as "a gumbo seasoned with ghosts, love, and murder on the bayou." It was published in 2001. Nora's sounds like something more up my street, but maybe it's atypical. Maybe romance is all "his breath quickening" and "tingling down the backs of her thighs." Maybe ghosts and murder and gumbo have no place in romance.

Well, Enchanted Land didn't sound like a book I would have enjoyed, either, so I advised Chris to ditch it and try another one. He went with the Nora and then blogged this on July 11:

Well, I'm 20% of the way through Nora Roberts's Midnight Bayou, the same point I was at when I bailed out of Jude Devaroux's Enchanted Land. So, how do the two compare?

First, I'm enjoying MB much more than I did the other novel. EL was entirely set in the 1800's, MB has flashback chapters to the turn of the 20th Century, but is primarily set in the early 21st. The contemporary setting is nice. The split timeline is nice.

In fact, everything is nice, and this is a problem I had with Devaroux's book, too. Everyone is beautiful. All but a few people are exceedingly charming and those folks are nefarious villains....

The most noticeable thing the two books have in common is a completely aggravating POV technique. We'll be going along with the main character Declan's thoughts and suddenly we'll get a thought or two from another character's perspective and then back to Dec. If it happened more frequently it'd be standard omniscient, but this is more on-a-whim than that. It annoys me.

I like Midnight Bayou, but if the POV thing is par for the Romance course, I'm not lovin' it.

Let me tell you, people, forcing a man to read a romance novel is exhausting work. I was thiiis close to excusing Chris from participation in the Challenge. On Thursday I left him this message in the Comments section of my blog:

I'm beginning to feel like I ought to let you off the hook. Okay, I'm a horrible person, I loved the idea of you suffering a little, but I never dreamed it would be this hard on you....

He replied:

Actually, it's not that bad. Once you stop caring about consistent point of view it's halfway decent. I hit the first tender-lovin' scene yesterday and I wasn't unmoved. No one broke wind midway through "the act," so it lost a few believability points (or maybe that's just me).

You suffered through Annie Wilkes' DIY amputation kit. I can make through impossibly beautiful people a'gropin and a'sweatin.
Uh . . . charmingly put, Chris.

I thought I was doing a service to the romance reading and writing community, encouraging the snobs and holdouts to stop dissing romance and try reading one. But one of the participants in my program is refusing to be converted; he may be reading, but he's still dissing.

I have concluded that some men should not be encouraged to read romance novels. In fact, some men should not be allowed to read romance novels.



Chris said...

Me me me ... it's all about me. :)

For the record, I'm not dissing. I'm sassing. And Romance is in good company; I sassed the Salk vaccine over on the f*i*f board earlier this week.

Other than the POV thing, I do like Midnight Bayou. The spooky parts are genuinely spooky. The steamy parts are genuinely steamy. We haven't actually had any gumbo yet, but there was a zydeco number at one point, so I'm gonna accept that the bayou is genuine bayou and not run-of-the-mill swamp.

If Nora (and early Jude) is the only one to muck up the POV (or able to get away with it), I'll probably read another book or two before I wander off and find something else to poke with a stick.

--Chris (dFm)

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, then. Perhaps we are making some progress.


Robin Bayne said...

I like your new header!!!

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks, Robin. I took that picture several months ago after I opened a bag of M&Ms and spilled them on my brand-new computer. I'm so glad I had a camera close at hand because that picture makes me smile every time I see it. I thought it might make a nice visual joke to go along with this blog's title, so I cropped it and faded it and stuck it up there where I could see it every day. I hope others will get a grin out of it, too.

Anonymous said...

Actually, while Nora is the behemoth of romance (no one sells like Nora), and she has a gaggle of ravenously loyal fans who will knock your eyes out if you criticize Nora (who is a great gal, I gathered, from my message boarding with her years ago), nevertheless, I can't take those POV zig-zags, either. I've read about six or seven Nora books. She has that storyteller gift, but I am not someone who can overcome my personal distaste for that POV ping-ponging. Hey, obviously, millions of folks like that. :) Just not me. :( I so wanted to become a Nora-ite, just to get in on the discussions. But I could not.


Anonymous said...

P.S. I read ENCHANTED LAND ages ago. ("In the days of my youth...). It was very typical of romances back then to be just like that (especially historical ones, especiallly Ms. Devereax). Huge chunks of internal dialogue that was back-and-forthing about one's doubts vs. desires for the hunkiepoo of the novel. I think I read about a half-dozen Devereaxs (they were big way back when). I haven't read any of her newer novels, so I have no idea how she's evolved.

There is a great deal more attention to plotting since then, but romance, by definition, will always have that internal tugging, because there has to be a lot of emotion and conflict about that emotion. So, I dont' think we can leave that behind and really be romances.

I don't expect men to love romance the way women do. I would never expect my hubby to read one, even my own. He's definitely NOT wired for it.