Sunday, April 26, 2015

Romance and the Evil Ex

I finished that slog-book that was giving me so much trouble (a good book in many respects, but not for me), but not before speeding through one or two more mass-market romance novels. I read some other things...and now I'm back to romance (I had my hopes pinned on a library book that neither I nor two separate librarians could locate), this time of the lesbian variety.

I was thinking about this before I started the lesbian romance, but it's proving true here as well: the ex is evil. The ex seems to always be evil—or sometimes dead.

It makes some sense, to a degree; if the ex is too appealing or reasonable, maybe the hero or heroine won't look so appealing. Plus, it gives them some conflict. But sometimes it's a little...overkill. Instead of showing how appealing, say, Hero Jack is in comparison to Evil Ex Joey, it can make Heroine Jill's taste look questionable* or just look wildly unrealistic. In one of the het romances I read recently, the evil ex is a deadbeat dad who shows up near the end of the book to demand partial custody and substantial child support to go with it (the heroine is a wealthy princess—and, while we're on tropes, the hero is her bodyguard). When he learns that his son is deaf he says some offensive things and the hero boots him to the door. The evil ex exists so that the heroine can have a child and so that the hero can do that booting.

(Wouldn't it make just as much sense if the heroine was just like, 'yeah, he's not a bad guy but he's not in the picture anymore'? And that was that?)

If the evil ex is female (and the book is het), chances are that she's a conniving, cheating bitch who only wanted the hero for his money. If she's dead, there's still a substantial chance that the hero is not truly mourning her—because she was a conniving, cheating bitch who only wanted the hero for his money, but only the hero knows that (and he's too good a person to smear her name now that she's dead).

Meanwhile, in this lesbian romance, the evil ex (well, soon-to-be, but for simplicity's sake...) is a professor who constantly belittles her ladyfriend, flirts with anything with breasts (including the ladyfriend's sister), and possibly gives top marks only to students who sleep with her.


(In the last lesbian romance I read, the evil ex was not so much evil as deeply closeted and neurotic. Better, perhaps,** but again—wouldn't it have been simpler for them to have just grown apart or wanted different things?)

Of course there are plenty of unhealthy relationships in real life, and people who are really not fun to be around (or to be dating, or to have dated)...but I think it's just as well that I don't live in a (or at least this particular type of) romance novel. I like the people around me to be three-dimensional.

* Not to insult anyone who's ever dated someone who turned out to be a dud...

** Although it would be markedly better if these books did not so often fall to homophobia as the greater conflict and closetedness as a character flaw.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Week Is Not Enough

I've been reading mass-market romance novels on weekends recently, less because of a significant interest in romance novels (nothing wrong with romance, but I find the predictability frustrating...which begs the question of why I read so much mainstream YA) than because...well. First it was on a weekend when I got home from my day job on a Friday afternoon and then spent Friday evening and all of Saturday and Sunday on other work, and my brain felt too much like mush to read anything else. (This weekend it's because the book—memoirish nonfiction—I am trying to read, which I've been looking forward to for ages, has turned out to be something of a slog, and even though I only have about sixty pages left I'd to procrastinate a little longer.)

I get virtually all of my romance novels at thrift stores,* so by default I am reading only those that somebody else didn't think were worth keeping, and yet sometimes...I mean, I can't complain about tropes (e.g., princesses), considering that I actively seek out princess romances at thrift stores (still seriously considering renaming my kings-and-queens shelf on GR 'princess-fantasies'), but when you have a princess (common romance trope #1) falling for a rancher (common romance trope #2) who has been hired to be her bodyguard (common romance trope #3), what is that? (If it's a trifecta, it's not my trifecta.) Why do these characters keep falling in love and proposing over the course of about a week? And why do the women in these books never truly get the upper hand?

* Crowning (relevant) achievement to date: finding, over the course of a few days, three Harlequin romances featuring two heroines and a hero with my name, my sister's name, and my brother's name...none of which is common.