What a pity. I had higher hopes for HuffPo’s book section but wow, they were dashed against the rocky shores of sweeping generalization and people who don’t know diddly squat talking out their asses. I mean, how else am I to judge the entire offering of a diverse selection of writers discussing all things book except by judging the whole on a limited and asinine sample, right? Right! Of course!
Alan Elsner went to the library and borrowed a stack of romances. Seems because he wrote a book called “Romance Language” he is often asked if he’d written a “romance novel.” You can see where this is going.
So he borrows a stack and finds his conceptions of the genre were out of date. He then takes the time to carefully list the ways in which romance novels take the romance out of romance.
Well, I suppose it’s only fair that he make such cringe-worthy judgments, since his article takes the quality out of the HuffPo Books section.
The sad part is, aside from some painful and cruel assumptions about romances and the women who read them (hold on to your blood pressure medication), there are some points upon which I agree with Mr. Elsner. He isn’t so far off base with his first assessment – that the female protagonist is usually young, brave, and independent.
But Elsner’s assessment of the hero is monolithic and indicates that when he went a-hunting for romance, he was sadly limited in his selection. Not all heroes are ‘hunky but haughty” “prototypical alpha-males.” Considering that the hero will “find himself way out of his depth when this chit of a girl awakens feelings he’s never known,” I suspect Presents may have been a part of the reading material building this list.
And then he moves on to other commonalities of the romance novel, making sweeping pronouncements that remind me of Dr. Google diagnosing every symptom as meningitis, no matter what symptom it is. No, Mr. Elsner, most of the barriers to the happy ending are not always misunderstandings. Some are sweeping judgments pronounced by someone who ought to know better. No, wait, that would be the happy ending to something else entirely.
And avast, ye hearties, here comes the expected smacks at the genre: the protagonists “are usually exchanging fluids by around page 60. This involves detailed and highly explicit descriptions of kissing, oral sex, mutual masturbation and full penetration. Both parties experience mind-blowing orgasms, described in minute detail.” I’m not sure what to address first, the idea that sexual explication is a bad thing (which it is not) or the myth that romance protagonists knock boots by page 60. In all honestly, this many misconceptions stacked up in ignorant formation just makes me exhausted. But no, there’s more.
Elsner continues on with summaries of the evil characters who try to break up the happy couple with schemes or whatever, and the hero and heroine defeat said evil and live happily ever after, hooray.
Then, alas, my head exploded.
I have nothing against such escapist fiction in principle. And I guess that women have as much right to enjoy pornography packaged to their liking as men. But I simply don’t find these books romantic….
Oh, no. You didn’t.
When does stupid-to-solar-power conversion come out? I could use it to fuel my whole house based on those three sentences alone.
In the romance novels I have read, love is expressed through sex and only through sex. The fact that the hero and the heroine can provide each other with tremendous orgasms becomes proof positive of their undeniable love for one another. If the sex is that good, the love must be real.
Actually, sir, there we agree. I find the books that express the emotional complexity of human relations through the congress of nookie to be tiresome and hate that so much of what is erotic narrative is presented as romance and sold as such, because it is not. One good orgasm does not a happily ever after make, despite many insistent books packaged as “romance” to the contrary. I wonder at the list of books Mr. Elsner took home with him, because that which we consider to be excellent romance avoids that sexually-ever-after cliche with determined alacrity.
Mr. Elsner’s mistake is in assuming that the books which DO rest the struggle of the relationship upon sex are romances. They’re not. Really. I’d almost want to create a recommended reading list but the overwhelming weight of judgmental asshattery is keeping me from doing so.
The true disservice that the “romance” genre does is that it sucks all the oxygen out of the room. It sets up expectations and lays down rules of what “romance” should be and what great sex is like. Publishers expect writers to follow these rules. So do readers. Anyone trying to write a real love story involving real people grappling with real dilemmas is breaking the rules of the game.
No, sir, anyone trying to write a real love story about people grappling with real dilemmas is most likely writing romance. Quality romance, at that. What you are writing, however, is ignorant whining.
But what really made my head meet the desk repeatedly was Mr. Elsner’s discussion of why he doesn’t write explicit sexual scenes in his books:
Partly, it’s because it’s so easy to write bad sex scenes and so difficult to write good ones…. But mostly, I don’t do sex because I’m more interested in love—and love takes place in the mind where it has to fight for its existence against all the other challenges presented by life.
Yes, that is certainly true. But yet it’s so easy to write articles dismissing romance novels based on a rudimentary, dismissive and woefully incomplete understanding of the genre. May I come into your house and criticize your writing based on the note you left for the paperboy?
Then I will judge the entirety of the HuffPo books section as tawdry, limited, incurious and dense based solely upon your article. Fair is fair, after all.