Week ending 28th February 2016

I posted a review of The Superheroes Union: Dynama on Saturday.

Everyone has been talking about Trope Anatomy 101: Reader, I Didn’t Marry Him – I Kicked His Jerk Ass to the Curb at The Book Smugglers and Brief Analysis of Alphahole Trope in Romantic Fiction by Ilona Andrews.

My thoughts? I think it’s valid and important to analyse and discuss what shows up in romance fiction and what romance tropes show up in other genres of fiction, because romance is a mature genre that deserves the kind of criticism that means it’s taken seriously. Does that mean that most skewering of romance tropes do take the romance genre seriously? Not so much.

But also, I really really hate alpha male posturing in romance. And I hate most important gothic novels I’ve had to read and the ways a lot of people misconstrue them as beautiful love stories (I hate to read Wuthering Heights in high school and hated it, too). So I can see why many people would think those and the terrible Mills and Boon I read as a teen where the romantic hero throws his weight around and forces kisses on the heroine are two sides of the same coin. There are also plenty of stories (and not just in the romance genre) where in a heterosexual plot the female love interest is terrible to the male, or both are contemptuous of each other and this is passed off as romantic tension. So even though I absolutely 100% understand the criticisms of the first post… I sympathise.

And even as an avowed lover of the romance genre, there have been plenty of times when someone has assured me there’s no Alpha nonsense in a story and then I read the book and see the man holds his partner down to stop her from leaving or pressures her into rushing into things or makes all her decisions for her. Which makes me feel hella claustrophobic, let me tell you. None of this rant is necessarily addressing either of those earlier posts, but they do remind me of what bothers me about a lot of romance in fiction – and honestly most of the time I’m fine with stuff I’m not into existing, but I wish it was easier for me to read it out so I didn’t have to read it.

Earlier in the month Sonya Heaney posted the throught-provoking post The Girl Whose Daughter’s Husband’s Wife, about a trend in titling books that effectively reduces female characters to their relationship with a man. But also, I have to say it makes me want someone to write a story called ‘The twenty-four-year-old Boy with the Daffodil Tattoo‘.

It may just be me, but I’m incredibly bored of reading BDSM and anal sex in romance fiction. Can’t we have a bit of variety? Old fashioned things like blow jobs, maybe? A bit of kink that doesn’t involve pain or dominance games? Those are all fine and well but people can do other things in bed. And I would like to read more of those other things, because it’s started to feel like almost every sex scene I read in m/m or m/f is exactly the same as the last.

I remember the first book I read about queer people, where the queer characters didn’t die. It was Drawing Blood by Poppy Z Brite – a haunted house horror novel. It was such a relief to read at the time. All the fiction I’d read about gay people (and it really was 99% about gay men) was about dying of AIDS or getting beaten to death. The irony of having to go to the horror section to find books about queer people who lived was not lost on me. I remember once buying an anthology, and literally the only story in that anthology that wasn’t about gay people dying was an excerpt from Maurice.

Now there are so many more books where GLBTQ characters get to live, which is great. There’s still a lot more fiction about white gay men than anything else, but there are those stories about there about lesbians and bisexual people and transgendered people and so forth. It’s so nice to see so many romance novels out there that aren’t just about straight people. It’s nice to see stories about members of the queer community getting their happy ending.

Thinking about why I read the things I do

I love rock star romances. Or should I say I love them in theory. I like the idea of reading about the big cool travelling recording artist falling in love – maybe with someone ordinary and unconnected to the music biz, or maybe with a fellow star, or even with a member of their own band. I like the contrast of the glamour of celebrity with the hard work of being a touring artist, and how this might affect a love story. But in practice, I often find myself giving rock star romances I read one or two stars over on goodreads.

Why is that?

I love music and looking at celebrity culture. I enjoy music journalism, even though most of it is not particularly good. So why is it that so many rock star romances just don’t capture me?

Well, for a start, the way we respond to romance fiction is so individual. Every different reader has a different idea of what is romantic to read about, which characters are exciting, and how much drama is too much. One story might capture the excitement of loving a band but the main characters don’t live up to that excitement. Or perhaps it’s the supporting characters that seem interchangeable, while the main characters are left to liven up the story on their own. A story might capture the drama and artificial nature of celebrity culture, while not quite nailing the emotional arc between the two main characters. Or the emotional drama may be over the top and the rest too sedate. Or even still, the story can be just fine but not connect with me anyway.

So why do I keep reading them anyway?

It’s because I know that even the stories I don’t love usually have moments that delight or enthral me. And because I’m always waiting for that one story that just connects with me, because as a genre, when romance is good it’s amazing.