Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Clean to you... but dirty to the Latins*

I'm a literary snob, I admit it. I try really hard not to be. Like I've got this thing with adverbs. I've been so bombarded about the evils of adverbs for so long that when I see one, I take personal offense. It's silly, of course, for me to worry about the adverb count in things I didn't write, but there it is.
So anyway, I know that I'm a big fat snob when it comes to genre fiction: mysteries, fantasy, romance novels, etc. And that's kind of a problem when you just want some light reading for the airplane, or when you'd like to relax with a pleasant read - something without footnotes, perhaps. 
Lately, I've been taking a notion that perhaps I'd like to read romance books. Trashy ones, particularly. I've never had a lot of patience for roses and long walks; I do, however, like a good love scene.
I've read about half of half a dozen romance novels now. Give or take. And I found some stuff I dislike a lot more than gratuitous adverbs.
During my five minutes at OU, I took a writing class, and the professor mentioned that there was some kind of romance novel governing board who decide what can and can't be in romance novels. That in itself is kind of messed up, but I don't know enough of the details to go on a full rant. 
Anyway, one of the things that this board decided some years ago was "no more rapes." I'm not going off about that specifically either, I just think it's an interesting introduction to what I am about to rant about.
When they said "no more rapes," they decidedly did not say "no more near-rapes." It seems, in all of the trashier fare that I've perused, that every woman in every trashy romance novels is just moments from being raped. Luckily, she's always just moments from being rescued by a handsome hero, so no harm, no foul, right?
I just find it really weird that these books, which are supposed to be light and fun, have such a creepy thing always just under the surface. I find it so odd that these supposedly empowered heroines who read books and solve mysteries are always so hapless and helpless when it comes to rape. And never do the near-rape victims appear to have been scarred or in any way harmed from the experience. I'm halfway into the first of the Stephanie Plum books, which people keep recommending. So far, she has been rescued from being gang raped, had a rapist pounding on her door, threatening to rape her, and has been sexually assaulted in her shower (depending on your definition of sexual assault, I suppose). None of this has phased her; in a few cases, it's been more punchline than anything.
I'm trying not to get on a high horse here, it's just that I'm not sure who sees all this rape business as light and amusing fare. I mean, what turns your crank turns your crank, but the levity just kind of worries me.
There's also the fact, of course, that these things don't come with a warning label. You think you're getting an amusing bungling bounty hunter, and instead you're getting misadventures in rape avoidance.
And that is why I must return, like a female Irish Lenny Bruce, to porn. You see, porn comes with labels. I read the back of a romance novel at the bookstore, and all I know is who wrote it and the fact that there will most probably be naughty bits. Don't know what kind of naughty bits, and I don't know if they'll make me feel awkward or uncomfortable or grossed out. Porn, it's got labels. If there's going to be rape involved, that fact will be displayed right on the page or the box. No mysteries here. You want rape, here's rape. You don't want rape, there's a never-ending supply of fantastic filthy consensual sex right over there, clearly labeled. I doubt folks get halfway through a porno and all of a sudden the intrepid hero is being assaulted in the shower - if shower assaults are going to happen, the handy blurb will make sure you know it's coming.

I don't have a big conclusion or moral or a finger to wag. Certainly, Janet Evanovitch can write whatever she wants to and whatever sells, and there's nothing wrong with people who want to read it. I should also point out that I know there are a great many tasteful romance novels without romanticized rape. It's just, you know, a weird thing I noticed.

* From Lenny Bruce. Full text: You can't put tits and ass on the marquee! Why not? Because it's dirty and vulgar, that's why not! Titties are dirty and vulgar? Okay, we'll compromise. How about Latin? Gluteus maximus, pectoralis majors nightly...That's all right, that's clean, class with ass, I'll buy it...Clean to you, schmuck, but dirty to the Latins!


Anonymous said...

I have often thought about reading such a book after completing literature classes and other finals when my brain needs a rest. I haven't yet, but I always wondered what these books were about besides just sex scenes, which is, generally, all that is marketed about them. So I guess it turns out they are all about sex and violence. Interesting.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

I can't say they're all like that, and I think I am a little over-sensitive about stuff like that...

Dekcat121 said...

I have to say as a Janet fan, I enjoy her characters and their idiosyncrasies the most. I love that Stephanie is fueled by donuts and Cluck in a Bucket, and finds herself in the midst of these crazy, sometimes tense, and sometimes funny situations. It's what makes her stand out from the pack, at least to me. To contrast the humor with violence is a natural foil for many writers throughout history in various genres. It's entertainment, a thrill ride through the wacky world she's created for us, and yet evokes emotions from the reader as we find humor, disgust, fear and lust through her characters. If I can find myself caring what happens to the heroine, that's good writing, even if I don't always agree with the choice of plot devices. Just my two cents, or quarter I guess...

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Like I said, the writing's not bad, and I'm not saying she shouldn't write it. I was actually kind of enjoying the first book until, you know, a murder suspect broke into her house, ripped off her shower curtain, chained her up naked, told her she was lucky he didn't rape her, and then this was apparently funny.