On IMDB, I read that screen testers who watched an early cut of Fatal Attraction hated the ending because the Glenn Close character didn’t die badly enough. They wanted her set on fire, drawn, quartered, and, if I remember the quote correctly, “blown away.” So in the version that was released to theatres, Close’s character’s ending was rewritten, because, as the trivia page for the movie says, “preview audiences felt that [Close’s character] was not brought to justice.” Her come-uppance had to match and even out as much as possible her crimes. The ending had to serve as some restitution for the damages she caused, if only in the viewer’s mind.
That rewritten ending came to mind when I was discussing villains in contemporary romances and romantic suspense novels with some of the members of the Washington Romance Writers this past weekend.
The WRW is a huge chapter – over 200 members – and after the meeting, some members of the Board went out for coffee and then dinner, and like any gathering of romance fans and writers in the genre, finding topics to chat about was way easy. At one point the discussion turned to villains and books the scared the crap out of us. I mentioned Blue Smoke, which to this day I can’t reread unless I know the doors and windows are locked and the dog is awake—and since my dog has cataracts and is about 9000 years old in human years, keeping the old man awake is mostly for my own comfort so I have something to hold onto while I scare the crap out of myself.
When I mentioned Blue Smoke, one of the women said that she didn’t like the book because she didn’t think the villain got served enough of the can of restitution whoop-ass in the end. His crimes were so evil and so awful that there was no making up for them, even in the end when the evil is vanquished and everyone else lives happily ever after. While she was explaining why the villain went too far down the road of no return, it made me wonder if there’s a Too Evil To Bear scale for villains, like there’s a Too Stupid to Live scale for heroines. Heroines who are Too Stupid Too Live, depending on the reader and where the heroine falls on the scale, aren’t likeable, and aren’t characters who keep us reading—I’ve definitely put down books because the heroine was a foolish twatnugget. And I’ve had problems with books where the hero’s actions were irredeemable to the point where I didn’t think he could make amends sufficiently enough to justify his happy ending. We debated that a few years ago in the thread on rape in romance with the hero from Whitney My Love, and it was one of the major reasons I didn’t like Claiming the Courtesan – I didn’t think the hero could redeem himself enough in my eyes for me to believe the happy ending. There were many other people who thought differently, for whom the hero’s actions in the end made up for the beginning.
With the number of serial killers in romantic suspense novels rivaling the number of dukes in historicals, there’s no shortage of vile crime. Have there been villains whose actions are so vile, so completely irredeemable that no matter what happened to the Baddy McBadston, it wasn’t enough to cleanse the palate sufficiently and make room for the fully-developed happy ending?