Wednesday, January 26, 2011

um, the act in romance novels

I just realized that it's Wednesday!  I'm supposed to blog today!  (still not used to this)  Since I still have a couple of hours of reading to do for class tomorrow, I'm pulling this one out, which I wrote a couple of weeks ago but never posted. Let me know what you think. I didn't post it before because I was worried it would be controversial and I hate controversy, but I'm up against the wall here, so here it is.

So you already know Agnes and the Hitman is one of my all-time favorite books.  Usually with genre fiction I feel the need to say it is "one of my favorite plane reads" or "perfect for the beach," but I'll just go ahead and crawl right out on a limb here and say that Agnes is one of my favorite books.  Period.  So I have handed it to friends occasionally, friends who don't usually read genre fiction, thinking it would convert them.

(**warning: spoilers ahead** but only from the first hundred pages-- there are no spoilers about the ending.  But if you like to go into books completely blind, you should stop now.) 

So, I hand Agnes to them and assure them that this is a really good book, even if it is a mass market paperback.  And so far, none of them (except my spouse) has agreed with me, and I think I know why:  because they find the angry sex scene to be offensive.  About a hundred pages in, Agnes--who has problems with controlling her temper anyway-- is deservedly furious with her jerky fiance' Taylor when she finds out he is already married.  Not only that, he lied to her about his marital status in order to swindle her out of the house they own together.  She's so furious that she has a hard time controlling herself, and she ends up exorcising her anger by having really, um, vigorous sex with Shane, the hero (and he's a really good hero, one of my all-time favorites), whom she has known for about 24 hours.

If you're a regular reader of contemporary romance novels or chick lit, this is nothing too far out of the ordinary.  Well, maybe a little out of the ordinary, since I have yet to read another book with a similarly angry scene, but the idea of sleeping with a guy soon after you meet him is certainly nothing new, especially when it is accompanied (as it is here) with post-sex confusion ("I can't believe I just slept with a guy I barely know"). 

But if you don't read these kinds of books very often, it's a little shocking.  Obviously, I don't think that-- I love this book, remember?  so don't mix me up with them.  (Oddly, the one thing that bugged me about that book (she slings boiling fruit in the face of a guy attempting to break in to her house and then whacks him with a frying pan) doesn't seem to bother anybody else.)  I'm just trying to explain how people who don't read romance novels think, because I think it has a lot to do with why romance novels are looked down on by literary types.  Crusie and Mayer aren't even close to the most explicit writers out there-- in fact, their lovemaking scenes are pretty classy.  I've read some where a single act can go on for ten or twelve pages.  I start to get bored.

I've only been reading romance novels for a couple of years.  Before that, although I read sci-fi and mysteries, I completely disdained romances, with the same kind of attitude these friends of mine have.  When I started reading them a couple of years ago, I can remember practically dropping one of the first ones and looking at it in shock:  "You can buy this at Target?" because it felt like I was reading pornography.  There's a reason people call it "female porn," as much as that offends romance writers.

In fact, several months ago, the phrase "female porn" was mentioned in connection with romance novels on a romance writer's blog I frequent and it caused a mini-firestorm among the other romance writers there.  The writers were outraged that someone considered their carefully plotted and choreographed sex scenes to be porn, since they are often the most difficult scenes to write. 

But I think they were missing the point.  Yes, the scenes can be beautifully written.  Yes, they can reveal a great deal about the characters.  But the fact remains, if you don't normally read romance novels, and then you pick one up, the detailed, fantasized sex is astonishing.  Jaw-dropping.  Book-dropping.  I thought:  You mean you can just walk into a store a buy this stuff?  Wow.

So, what about you?  Did you find the sex scenes surprising when you first read a romance novel? (if you have, and if you haven't try Agnes.  Seriously.)  And on a slightly different note, what romance novels do you hand to friends if you're trying to convert them to reading romances?

1 comment:

  1. Funny you posted this just now. I am a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, and I was thinking last night that her books are about the only ones I ever re-read (every time she comes out with a new one I go back and, yes in order, start all over again). I just picked up her graphic novel rendition of the original story. I don't like graphic novels, but I didn't want to miss a bit of these characters. There was some controversy about one of her scenes from early in the first book (not sex, but on a similar "act" type of topic). I was not bothered by the scene, as I have never been bothered by any "act" scenes I've read. I don't remember when I first picked up a romance, in fact, I didn't realize there WERE genre books for a tragically long time. I thought books were books. There was fiction and there was non-fiction.
    Wow, that was way longer than I intended. Did I answer the questions at all?
    Oh right, handing a favorite to a friend. I must have very pornographic friends because pretty much everyone I know has similar reading tastes as mine, and we recommend lots of titles and authours, many (most?) with sex in the stories.