On The Delights of Being Tortured

Jorie made a comment to the “On Romance Novel Heroes and Heroines” entry that made me think. Specifically, this bit of her comment: “But I also think I find something very cathartic about a fucked up hero or heroine (just one per book is enough) who comes through to a happily ever after.”

She really nailed that one on the head. But I’ll take it even one step further: I actually actively ENJOY reading, in gruesome detail, why a hero or heroine is tortured, AND I also enjoy reading about a hero (or very rarely,  a heroine) who puts the other protagonist through hell—with one very important condition: that by the end of the book, he realizes that he’s been a complete asshole, he’s very, very sorry for what he’s done, he makes amends with the heroine (read: GROVELS HIS ASS OFF) and he’s able to heal and move on from the assholery. OK, I just realized that’s more than one condition. But they’re all really sub-sets of the one big Supercondition that I like to call “Appropriate Realization of and Remorse For One’s Own Jerkfacedness.” Anyway, this emotional wringer/rollercoaster is a big part of why I love books like Seize The Fire, To Have and To Hold, Lily and The Windflower so much.

What does this say about me as a reader? I mean, schadenfreude much? Damn. Not to say those are the only kinds of romance novel I like to read. I enjoy other types of romances as well; right now I’m reading and really liking MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead and Unwed, which has nothing like that going on at all. But looking through my list of keepers, I realize that a disproportionate number involve the hero putting the heroine through shitloads and shitloads of turmoil, which she manages to weather with her sanity and sweetness intact. I mean, seriously, some of the crap the hero pulls on the heroine, if done to me in real life, would’ve resulted in me punching the hero square in the balls. (“YOU LIED ABOUT WHAT?!?” *WHAKOW! BAM! SPLAT!* *hero falls to the floor crying for the fate of his unborn children*)

This is probably why I’m not exactly romance novel heroine material, eh?  That, and my love of dead baby jokes.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on this? Anyone else there share my sick, sick love of tormented protagonists who do quite a bit of their own tormenting, only to recant with all appropriate remorse at the end? If you do, why do you love ‘em so much? Catharsis explains only part of why I like these types of books as much as I do.

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  1. 1
    Lynn M says:

    I’ll join your Tortured Heroes Anonymous club, Candy. I love a hero who’s undergone some major bad crap in his life which he then turns around to splatter all over some unexpecting heroine. Because the payoff – that “Appropriate Realization of and Remorse For One’s Own Jerkfacedness” is so amazingly worth it!

    Besides, *we’re* not the heroines having to put up with Tortured-Man’s bs, are we? Sorry babe, goes with the territory when you are young, nubile with creamy smooth skin, perky breasts and a mouth so kissable every male within a twenty mile radius obsesses over it. Not to mention that you end up with a studly hot black-belt lovemaker of a husband at the end of the book. And usually rich. With no split ends. Yeah, life sucks for you. *g*

  2. 2
    Wendy says:

    I usually tell people that I cannot stand mucho Alpha heroes.  It’s hard for me to like or understand the hero when I start fantasizing about a heroine running him over with a truck :)

    That said, I love books where the mucho Alpha hero grovels.  I’m talking major groveling.

    I’m a total asshole babe and not fit to lick your boots but I llluuuuuvvvvvv you so much!  Please take me back, even though I’m an ungrateful dog.

    And ditto on all the tortured hero stuff.  I love a good tortured hero….

  3. 3
    Jorie says:

    I do run into trouble with tortured heroes.  If he sits around thinking how tortured he is, I’m not having much fun.  If the author hasn’t the skill (or I’m not the right reader) to make me believe that the hero has moved on from his abusive, traumatic past and can have a HEA, I have a problem.  I can’t enjoy the book if the hero throws too much crap at the heroine unless it is extremely well-motivated.

    So I actually am a little wary about books where everyone talks about how tortured the hero is.  Although when it does work, I love it.

    I often prefer betas, like Crusie’s heros.  Not that there can’t be tortured betas, like For My Lady’s Heart by Kinsale.  (At this point, I should probably say that I don’t think my definitions of alpha and beta always map onto others all that well.)

  4. 4
    Candy says:

    Lynn: Ah, yes, the hero’s supernatural ability to provide mind-blowing orgasms with a single flick on his finger on the heroine’s fleshy pearl would go a long way towards explaining why she puts up with as much crap as she does.

    Wendy: I’m with you on not usually liking alpha heroes too much. You know, when I think about my favorite heroes, they’re almost all non-alpha types. They’re not wusses by any means, but they’re not the commanding, arrogant, glowering type. My three all-time favorite heroes would probably be Samuel from The Shadow and The Star, Michael from Wild at Heart and Christy from To Love and To Cherish, who are all essentially very, very sweet characters with a core of innocence to them. Sheridan, who puts Olympia through so much shit in Seize the Fire, strikes me as the result of what happens when you try to force a non-alpha man to become an alpha, and he does all he can to weasel out of having to be one. (OK, I’ve typed the word “alpha” so many times now it’s starting to sound strange and lose meaning for me.) But I have to say, The Windflower has THE most satisfying remorse/grovel scenes in which the lovely, golden, super-duper alpha Devon feels bad for the way he treats Merry. The grovel is the payoff for all the torture we suffer along with the heroine, and GODDAMN it’s satisfying, though again I’m hard-pressed to articulate exactly why.

  5. 5
    Candy says:

    Jorie: don’t you think quite a few of Kinsale’s heroes are tortured betas?

    Gryphon from The Hidden Heart
    Arden from The Dream Hunter
    Ruck from For My Lady’s Heart
    Samuel from The Shadow and The Star
    S.T. from The Prince of Midnight

    And I don’t necessarily enjoy the heroes pondering on how tortured they are, either. I want to see the scenes of what made them what they are today. One Cheryl Anne Porter historical had a completely ridiculous tortured hero who made me want to tear my hair out because he’d literally stop right in the middle of doing something, think about his dear ole dad, and then realize his emotional issues all stemmed from his abandonment. ARRRRRGH.

  6. 6
    Jorie says:

    I’ve only recently discovered Kinsale but, yeah, Samuel, Ruck, and even the guy from Midsummer Moon was sorta betaish.  (I have to watch myself because beta starts to equal heros I like.)

    (I’m looking forward to Gryphon and Tess’s story in The Hidden Heart though I fear I’ll find it hard to see Samuel there.)

  7. 7
    Candy says:

    Ransom of Midsummer Moon strikes me as one of the more alpha of Kinsale’s heroes, but he does have a pretty strong beta streak in him. I don’t think Kinsale has created ANY typical alpha heroes. Which is why I like her so much, I think.

    Relatively few of my favorite books have what I’d consider real alpha heroes. The four Judith McNaught books I like (Something Wonderful, Kingdom of Dreams, Almost Heaven and Paradise) feature what I think of as prototypical alpha heroes, but then McNaught’s heroes tend to blur together for me. They’re all tall, dark-haired, extremely handsome, very powerful (physically and economically), punishingly arrogant, etc. etc. ad nauseam. The only thing that differentiated them from each other was the color of their eyes. That, and Ian from Almost Heaven was a genius and could read super-fast. She even turned the sweet, uncomplicated beta guy (Stephen, Clay’s brother in Whitney, My Love) into another cookie-cutter tortured, humorless alpha dipwad when he became the hero in Until You.

  8. 8
    Maili says:

    “Appropriate Realization of and Remorse For One’s Own Jerkfacedness”?

    Have you read Suzanne Robinson’s LADY GALLANT?  If you haven’t, read it. I could say “please”, but I shan’t. :D

    P.S. Thank you *so* much, Candy and Sarah, for using this particular spam filter software. It’s a lot easier to use than those with numbers. In fact, I’m weeping with relief. Numbers and I don’t get on. At all. :P

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