Goodbye and Hello
Some of my very favorite Romanceland bloggers/tweeters have decided to take at least a temporary hiatus from most online interaction. While I completely understand why, I miss them. I’ve been trying to scale back a bit too, but I’m also resolved to keep refocusing on the parts of Romanceland I love–talking about what’s in the books–and to try to stay away from a lot of the controversial stuff around books, the noise that makes people want to retreat. It’s a work in progress, obviously.
On the plus side, here are two new blogs I’ve been enjoying:
Radish Reviews is by Natalie and Donna, former reviewers for RT Book Reviews. Their Friday links posts, like this one, are great, and their thoughtful reviews range around fantasy, sci fi, romance and mystery.
Romance Novels for Feminists is by Jackie C. Horne, a children’s lit scholar whose name I recognized from her professional life. I know the issues around feminism and romance can feel stale to long-time readers, but I’ve found Jackie’s posts fresh (and non-polemical) because she mostly focuses on specific books, not generalizations. Her literary-critical background shows in her style of interpretation, but she’s writing as a romance-loving reader, not an academic.
About that TBR . . . .
I got some good suggestions on ways to whittle down the pile. So far, I’m trying to rotate genres and reading “platforms” (Sony, iPad, dead tree) without a more specific challenge/strategy. Since I still seem to be over my reading slump, it’s working. Except, um, then my hold on Ben Aaronovitch’s Whispers Underground came in at the library (yay!). And my husband went to the comics shop and got me the graphic novel of Northanger Abbey. Meanwhile, I took my daughter costume-shopping at the second-hand store, where I found My Sweet Folly by Laura Kinsale and Jack on the Box by Patricia Wynn. So at best I’ve broken even. Another work in progress.
I had an all-day work retreat last Saturday, and a meeting tomorrow that requires leaving home at 5:30 am to catch a ferry. Ugh. I love ferry travel, though, and it will mean plenty of listening and reading time en route.
Too Stupid to Live?
This week I read Laura Griffin’s Untraceable, the first of her Tracers romantic suspense series. (Short take: I liked but didn’t love it; well-paced suspense, somewhat underdeveloped romance; I’d read more but the e-books are $10 in Canada, so I may be cherry-picking the best or looking for used copies). At the same time, I was listening to Michael Connelly‘s The Lincoln Lawyer (short take: I really liked the twisty plot and morally complex hero; I’ve already borrowed the next in the Mickey Haller series and the first in the Harry Bosch series, which I’m listening to now). I’m usually reading and listening to more than one book at a time, but I try to keep them in different genres. These were a little too close; every time I settled down to read or listen, I had to think, “Is this the one with the possibly murdered possibly battered wife and the PI, or the one with the definitely murdered woman and the defense lawyer?”
Reading them side-by-side did make me think about when and why we label women in romantic suspense “too stupid to live” (TSTL). I know I’m not the first to observe that though the phrase is gender-neutral, it’s typically applied to female characters. And while TSTL moments are really a failure by the author to imagine another way to move the plot forward, in Romanceland discussions it’s often the heroine who gets the blame and vitriol, as if she were a real person.
Reading these two suspenseful books, I didn’t see a lot of stupidity difference between Alex Lovell, Griffin’s heroine, and Mickey Haller, Connelly’s hero. While both have special skills, they aren’t law enforcement officers, particularly strong, or trained to defend themselves. They both work alone. They both take some risks in pursuit of their vision of justice. They both get hurt. They both make mistakes. But while Alex is described in some reviews as having “TSTL moments,” Mickey is not. Hard-boiled detectives often blunder through their books, doing things that put them in jeopardy, but no one calls Philip Marlowe TSTL (do they?).
The characters in Untraceable are interesting in this light. I appreciated that Alex was a PI, not someone who accidentally stumbled into the suspense plot, and that both her skills and those of the cop hero, Nathan Deveraux, were required to solve the crime. Nathan and other characters respect Alex, and the two make a good team. On the other hand, she is made to be somewhat blindly stubborn at times to help advance the plot, and she does need rescuing by Nathan. I like how the novel addresses this tension directly, because his desire for her to give up the case at the center of the book–and his preference that she work at something safer–is one of the conflicts in their relationship.
I think gender roles are typically a vexed issue in romantic suspense, which often features a hero in law enforcement or the military and a civilian heroine. The archetypes at the heart of so much romance–the knight in shining armor; the damsel in distress–can be in conflict with or undermine the desire to write a strong, skilled suspense heroine. It’s hard for both writers and readers to escape the pull of those archetypes. If the hero can only be a manly man when he’s stronger than the heroine, well, she has to be made vulnerable. But look at how we often talk about characters: if he takes risks, it’s the alpha male thing to do; if she does, she’s TSTL. What if we used the same yardstick to measure both?