Book Review

Dance With Me by Emmie Dark

DNF

Title: Dance With Me
Author: Emmie Dark
Publication Info: Emmie Dark 2013
ISBN: 9780992352301
Genre: Contemporary Romance


Book Dance With Me Caveats to this review:

1. In this review, I discuss sexual assault, gang rape, and the events in Maryville, Steubenville, and elsewhere. If discussions of assault and rape culture are upsetting or traumatic for you, please be warned before reading more.

2. I read this book through the lens of my own experience and my own awareness. Which seems like an obvious thing — of course I read through the lens of my own experience. In this case, I need to point that out, because my point of view as an American reader may have (by which I mean probably did) inform my reaction to the hero of this book. The author of this book is Australian, I believe, and I do not believe there was intention on her part to create a hero who is heavily influenced and emblematic of what I see as rape culture.

Moving on.

I was doing just fine with this book until one specific moment. The heroine, Polly, is an Australian tourist traveling alone, though booked at a hostel with other people, and she goes out to the market. After complimenting and showing a lot of interest in a merchant's jade, the merchant demands she buy some, and because she doesn't have enough money to do so or the language skills to extricate herself from the situation, she runs into a nearby bar and sits down with a young man wearing a “Berkeley” sweatshirt and asks him to pretend to be her husband for a moment.

Ok. Pseudo-pretend marriage. I'm on board so far.

The hero, Josh, is of course taken aback by the woman requesting his assistance, but he talks in Spanish to the merchant, who has chased her down with spittle-flecked ire, and calms the man down. Before he merchant leaves, he calls her a puta (whore) and spits at her feet.

Polly and Josh are momentarily surprised by that, but carry on after the dude leaves. I was thinking, well, if a dude were actually (a) married and (b) demonstrably fluent in Spanish, he would most likely (c ) take exception to some dude calling his wife a whore and spitting at her feet.

But, oh, well, time for more meet cute.

Polly is aware of her vulnerability – she's a woman traveling alone, having just ended a tour through Guatemala where she volunteered in villages in exchange for room and board with the families there. She mentions that she misses en suite bathrooms and hot running water, but is also cognizant of the privilege inherent in her preferences. One of things I found most fascinating about Polly is that as she and Josh get to know each other, she tells him that she embarked on this journey from Australia to find herself, but hasn't really much liked the self she's found – leaving her a bit sad. I found that a realistic and very interesting internal conflict, especially with the possibility that Polly would like to be a better person who likes herself more than she does at the present.

Josh is also internally conflicted. He's searching for something (I can't reveal what) and because one of his parents was Guatemalan, he spent a considerable amount of time in the town as a child. Josh has fluency and familiarity with the town, but doesn't feel at ease. He feels that he doesn't quite fit, but he knows most everyone, and his family is everywhere, welcoming him with love and effusive kisses and greetings.

After Polly and Josh meet, they end up having drinks together at different bars. Polly notices that when Josh tastes wine, he does so with the habits of a wine aficionado, holding the wine in his mouth and closing his eyes to focus on the taste and bouquet. She accompanies him on a tour of some of the wines, but she hasn't eaten since the day before, and after a few bottles, realizes she is really intoxicated.

Josh recognizes this, and after she sprains her ankle on the cobblestones, helps her up and asks her where her hostel is. Polly is aware enough to know she's done a dumb thing: she got drunk alone with a man she doesn't know in a town where no one is looking for her (she's told Josh she has “friends” who are “waiting for her,” but they both know she's lying) and can't remember the address of her hostel, only its proximity to a church and a building.

Josh takes her back to his hotel room, and again, Polly knows she is again in a vulnerable and stupid position, but the temptation of the en suite bathroom, the clean and luxurious hotel room (compared to the hot, smelly and bedbug infested — ew ew ew ew — bedrooms at the hostel) convince her to stay.

Plus, she is pretty sure Josh is not a bad person. (And, given that he's the hero, I was thinking similarly, to be honest.) He tells her that she's not safe so long as she's intoxicated and unaware of the address of her hostel, and that his room seemed like the safest option for her at the present. He figures she's about two minutes from passing out anyway.

Polly crawls into the bed, and one minute later, passes out.

Here's the actual text of that scene – this becomes important later in the review because shit will be lost by me. 

“Look, it's been fun drinking with you,” Polly explained as Josh took her arm and helped her up the step toward the bed. “And you're really hot. But I never agreed to have sex.” Better to get these things out in the open so there could be no confusion.

He arched one eyebrow. “Honey, when I have sex, I like it to be with someone who can participate.”

Polly tore away from his steadying grip and put her hands on her hips in indignation. “Are you insulting me? I have mad skills! In fact, I've been told on occasion that I'm very good….”

He pulled back the sheets on the bed. “I'm sure you are. But you'll be unconscious in about two minutes.”

“I will not!” Then she looked down at the bed. “Clean sheets!”

“Oh, God, this is fantastic.” She rubbed her cheek against the pillowcase, and closed her eyes. It was wonderful. Everything was right with the world. It was…

“Make that one minute.” Josh shook his head and sighed heavily. He should have known better.

 

So she's intoxicated and passed out in the room of a dude she just met (that I as the reader know is the hero) and despite the fact that way too many stories in the news follow a similar path, I was still ok with the story, and accepting both characters – and curious about more because their internal conflict was very intriguing to me.

Later, Polly wakes up.

Clearly he was the gentleman she'd taken him to be, because here she was, lying in his bed, fully clothed, un-raped and un-murdered, and he was sitting somewhere reading a book.

Josh has been reading for the past few hours while she slept, and she goes into the much-desired en suite bath to clean up (noticing that she looks like she passed out, with pillow creases on her face, and sweaty hair all over the place). Josh has ordered dinner, so they eat.

Then Josh suggests they go dancing. His aunt runs a dance studio he is very familiar with, and though Polly is fearful of the idea of people making fun of her because she's not a good dancer, she agrees to go with him after he promises they can just watch.

This is the scene where my estimation of Josh took a giant plummeting dive of the edge of a 50 miles cliff, and caused me to sit in angry contemplation of hero behavior for awhile.

OK. Mouth guard is in, because I know I'm going to clench my jaw as I write this.

So Josh and Polly are at the dance studio, Josh's tia (aunt) has greeted him most effusively, and Polly's a little curious about it. They watch for a minute or two, and Polly asks him about his familiarity with the studio:

“I was mostly brought up in California, but I spent some time here as a kid.”

Polly nodded. “Who are Maria-Teresa's students?”

Josh was both grateful and weirdly disappointed that Polly didn't push further. “Mostly locals, but she does lessons for tourists, too. Walk-ins off the street, or people sent to her by the concierges at some of the hotels.”

Polly leaned in closer, the side of her breast brushing his arm. It sent a shockwave through his body and sent the primitive part of his brain into overdrive. The same primitive part of his brain that had watched Polly climb into his bed that afternoon and yelled vicious insults at the more sophisticated part of his brain that had stopped him from joining her right between those sheets.” (emphasis mine)

And that's where I lost my shit.

He has a primitive part of his brain that wanted to have sex with a woman who was passed out in his bed? SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS. AFTER A MINUTE. 

THAT IS NOT HEROIC. THAT IS NOT OK.

Even if he was attracted to her (which he was), am I to believe that this person, and possibly many other males, are individuals with “primitive” parts of their brains that think sex with an unconscious woman is a permissible thing?

I mean, clearly judging by Steubenville, Maryville, and all the other Rapevilles that have become international news at this point, that might actually be true. We might be in fact culturally deficient in instructing men that having sex with women who are drunk and don't consent or cannot consent because they are unconscious is unacceptable and is rape.

That one line in this story is at odds with all the respect and sensitivity he's shown to Polly since they met. Like all his kindness and awareness of her and his attempts to make sure she's ok, despite her lack of fluency in Spanish and her forgetting that she hadn't eaten in 24 hours, is just a veneer, an application of “sophistication” that for the time being overrides his “primitive” brain's demanding impulses that he go have sex with an unconscious woman.

I have read and re-read these scenes, trying to write this review, and asking myself over and over if maybe I read it wrong. But I don't think I did. There's a primitive part of this “hero's” brain that really wanted to jump into bed with the woman who just passed out from drinking too much.

Holy fucking shit.

And only his “sophistication” prevented him from taking advantage of her. There was a part of him that wanted to have sex with an unconscious person.

Ugh.

So that's why my estimation of this hero plummeted to negative territory.

The more I thought about it, the more angry I got. 

I've heard so much about how our culture, especially sports culture, allows this argument to flourish. I've heard too many people make excuses for young men who rape and assault drunk or unconscious women, saying it was her fault for being drunk, not his fault for choosing to rape. The attempts to defend the rapist and demean the victim on the part of parents, teachers, school systems, sports teams and even law enforcement make me sick with rage and anger, especially with the increased knowledge that as more stores of Rapeville emerge, more women are speaking up to say, “That happened to me, too.”

I do not want to believe or encourage the argument that men have “primitive” brains that don't find anything wrong with fucking an unconscious or intoxicated woman who can't consent, and throw mental tantrums when they don't get their way.

I don't want to see it in romance, not in a hero, not in any part of his brain. This “primitive male brain” may be accepted as “normal” in too many places, but it's unacceptable to me.

He's not a hero. He's a walking primitive hard-on who is only held back by his more “sophisticated” side.

After that, despite the heroine's ruminations that it felt like she'd known Josh forever even though it had only been a day, I didn't trust him. I kept waiting for the primitive side to show up again.

For the rest of the book, every time he said something sketchy, something about how he was trying to suppress some impulse that looked like assault, I lost any interest in this hero redeeming himself. Everything he did was colored by that initial comment about the primitive side of his brain, and I was wary of him being anywhere near the heroine.


He'd noticed she was attractive, of course, he was a guy after all. Blonde hair, blue eyes, great breasts: that had been his instant appraisal. It had just been a while since he'd considered an assessment like that beyond a first impression.

Shudder.


And now that his brain had caught up with the situation, his body was along for the ride. Female hips clasped to his? Check. Cue boner. Not even vaguely appropriate. Polly was so close she'd notice for sure.


Dick as divining rod? Check.

Giving me the creeps? Also check.

Then Polly twists her ankle at the dance studio:


The khaki cargo pants she was wearing rode up, revealing a delicate ankle and smooth, pale skin. He had a sudden urge to hitch her leg up high, really high so he could feel it pressed… yeah, real smart.

He dismissed the juvenile thought and met her eyes.

 

It's not interesting or sexual. His constant struggle for control is creepy for me.

 

He looked down at her foot again, disgusted with himself. He was thirty-five years old for Christ's sake. He could be attracted to a woman without turning into a brainless, slobbering idiot.

Or so he'd thought.


Every impulse he has reads to me like, “The rapist is in there.” His lack of self control isn't erotic. It's revolting.

Then, later, they're discussing how intoxicated she got, and that Josh should have been able to recognize that she was drinking too much:

 

“Sorry, blame it on years of dealing with drunk women who insist they've only had one or two.”

“I definitely had more than one or two.”

“You did.”

“And I'm okay with paying the price for that. I understand my actions have consequences. I don't need to be told that.”

He nodded, a little taken aback. Something in the set of her shoulders told him they were talking about more than just overindulging in wine.


When Josh doesn't clarify what it was they were actually talking about, I'm left wondering if Polly was excusing that primitive side of his by taking responsibility for what might have happened to her when she was drunk. The subtext is that women who get drunk are responsible for any bad things that happen to them. The people who DO the bad things, well, they have primitive parts of their brains, and are not responsible for what those primitive parts urge them to do. They can't help themselves if that “sophisticated” part is busy or distracted or unable to stop the “primitive” part.

Then Polly recognizes her hostel, and Josh has a sad:


He'd been leading them back to his hotel, without much intentional thought, although now it seemed Polly wasn't going to be in his room again tonight, he was disappointed. His still half-hard erection pouted in his pants, too.


Yeah.

They say their goodbyes, and Josh says:


He shrugged, a little embarrassed by her words. “I've enjoyed your company, too.”

“You were an excellent fake husband.”

He wanted to make a quip about her being an excellent fake wife, even withholding sex just as married women apparently did, but he managed to stop himself before the words left his mouth.

 

SHE DIDN'T WITHHOLD SEX. SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS, YOU SHITBAG.

There's a sexist in there with the rapist apparently. Wonder which one makes his penis pout?

 

“Do you want to come back to my room?” he found himself saying. Clearly his cock had more power over his mouth than his brain did.

Their eyes met and held. Lots of meaning passed between them. Are you asking what I think you're asking? Polly's eyes said. Yes, pretty much, he hoped his eyes replied.


Run, Polly. Run.

There are some interesting moments before they parted ways in Guatemala, and I wished the hero's “primitive” impulses hadn't turned my opinion of him to permanently negative.

For example, Polly is described as very curvy, and at one point Josh mentions that her “round little belly would fit his cupped hand” — which made me stare at my own cupped hand and wonder about that, though I was happy to be reading about a heroine who was not thin and firm and flat in all the required places.

Then, they have sex, sober and conscious, and Polly makes it clear that she doesn't orgasm from penetration, and that Josh shouldn't feel like he's the one who will change all that:


Polly shook her head. “Don't worry about that. I don't come that way, anyway.”

“Huh?” Josh twisted and lay on his side so he could see her face.

“Sex. It doesn't make me come.”

Josh frowned. “Then what's the point?”

Polly tsked and rolled her eyes. “Such a guy thing to say.” She snuggled closer to him. “i like it. It feels great to be so close with someone. I guess, for me it's almost like part of the foreplay. It gets me all warmed up; then I just need a little help afterwards to get there.”

“Right.” Clearly she just hadn't had the right lover. Josh immediately set himself the challenge of making Polly orgasms the next time he was inside her. A challenge he could start work on right now.

Before he could move, Polly put a hand on his chest. “And please don't make us both suffer through the indignity of trying to prove me wrong. I've had this body for thirty years now and I know how it works.”

Josh shrugged. “if you insist.” He trailed a hand over her stomach and she shivered. “Want to tell me how it works, or should I just figure it out for myself?”

“You seemed to be doing a pretty good job of figuring it out….”

 

There's like a layer cake of WTFery in all the things I dislike about Josh's reaction here. Polly is so forthright and honest about her sexual expectations and the way her body works – awesome. But from 'What's the point?' to setting that challenge, I really, really, REALLY do not trust or like this character.

(Also, later Polly looks at his giant not-pouting-any-more schlong and wonders how it will fit.) (Of course she does.)

Their relationship progresses a small bit, then Josh heads home to San Francisco, and Polly continues on her travels, with a goal of seeing all of North America.

The meet up again accidentally when Polly winds up in San Francisco, wondering if she'll see Josh again. She goes out with a new friend, gets drunk, and is weaving her way down the street when Josh sees her. He sweeps in to rescue her, and brings her to his home, stopping the car once so she can vomit. At home, he hands her some pills, and Polly thinks:

 

Josh had rescued her tonight and in payment he'd had to deal with vomit and bird's nest hair. If he'd decided she was too much trouble and was handing her suicide pills, then she guessed she deserved it.


I get that this is a joke at Polly's own expense, but the idea that her intoxication (which occurs only twice in major form in this story, not every other chapter) and his taking care of her gives him leave to dispose of her because she's a pain in the ass…. oh, it didn't come across as funny. It came across to me as more of the creepy.

Then Polly gets really sick, and has to have emergency surgery. Plus she picked up giardia in Guatemala so there's discussion about that.

And I'm still reading at this point. I'm still highlighting lines and asking myself if I trust the hero yet, but reading chapter after chapter. Maybe he can be redeemed! I mean, I'm pretty curious about Polly, so maybe this will turn around for me. 

It didn't.

Here's why.

Josh finds Polly's passport in the mess of the guest room where she 'unpacked' in an explosion of clothes, and without telling her, puts it in his safe where he keeps his important documents. He's right, it's not necessarily safe to leave a passport on the floor in a messy room. But he doesn't tell her. Then he forgets to tell her (despite this being something he thought about while he did it, and wondered if he was doing the right thing). And he keeps on forgetting to tell her until one of Polly's friends gets very ill at home in Australia, and she's panicking, trying to find her passport so she can come home to be with her friend, and does Josh tell her that he knows where it is?

Nope.

He convinces her to stay in the US for a few more days and gets her to stop worrying about her passport. He doesn't tell her, 'Oh, I found it on the floor and put it in my safe, here it is, sorry.' He convinces her not to fly home to help her friend so she'll stop looking for it. And he feels GUILTY about it, but still lies to her anyway. Because he knows best.

And that's what I was done.

I was struggling with the primitive parts and the pouting dick and the attitude that his impulses and urges were her responsibility and her fault, and I was struggling with the fact that this “nice guy” hero was really, really not nice at all and was more of a sexist shitbag. But when he starts manipulating Polly by preventing her from exercising the choice to leave the country (and him), I was done.

Entertaining the idea that sex with Polly while she was unconscious was enough to make me angry, but the degree to which Josh's inner monologue normalized and portrayed his urges toward assault and continued manipulation gave me rage. The compounded and continued sexism of the hero and heroine's attitudes toward their own behavior ended any interest I had in the book, or any hope that I'd change my opinion of the hero. By the time he concealed that he'd taken her passport, I didn't have much hope that he'd be redeemed, and more importantly, I didn't care if he was. There was no redeeming him in my perspective, and therefore no reason to finish the book. He could have rescued an entire tractor trailer full of kittens from a smoky tunnel filled with burning cheese, and I wouldn't have liked him any better. No matter what he did, it wouldn't have been nearly enough to make up for his earlier behavior, nor for me to believe he'd changed and learned and wasn't a sexist manipulative shitbag. 


This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    An says:

    I love you!

    And no amount of rescued kittens would have saved that book for me either.

  2. 2
    Tam B. says:

    I’m Australian and can assure you that this is NOT acceptable to me or to anyone I know. 

    There have been some issues recently with our military and sports players and rape / assault and that culture but I’m hopeful these are the idiot exceptions rather than the rule.  (Actually I don’t have hope with regards to the military as the woman was discharged and the men disciplined only.)

    But regardless, such behaviour is unacceptable.

    I’m completely over authors believing that primitive = alpha = such behaviour being okay.  A strong man RESPECTS a woman’s decisions and SUPPORTS her. 

    I’m voting for staking this idiot over an anthill.  (That’s my primitive response to his.)

  3. 3
    Aislinn says:

    I’m Australian, too, and I have to say that just reading that review made my gut churn. When you were talking about it on the Podcast I was horrified that that kind of thought process would be from a ‘hero’ of a book. He sounded more like the creepy villain.

    I am having very similar problems with Anna Campbell’s A Rake’s Midnight Kiss right now. I used to love her books, but my tolerance for disrespectful, dickbag heroes has apparently plummeted in recent months. I was alright with it until there was one scene about a third of the way through where he does something SO creepy that I instantly RageQuit. I’ve tried to pick it back up, but now, every second page this guy is doing something I consider disrespectful (‘I know best’, ‘I’m casually going to ruin her life’, ‘she’s cute when she’s angry’) or weirdly paternalistic. I know that my impressions are coloured by that one scene, but I can’t help it. I just think the guy’s an asshole.

    I am just going to give up. But now I need a palette cleanser and I am too afraid to pick up a new book in case the hero is another wanker. Why can’t all heroes be fundamentally decent guys?

  4. 4

    I mildly disagree. I’m okay with a man having primitive urges, as long as he doesn’t act on them. If he recognises them, and then uses the civilised part of his brain to say, “Nope, not going there. Ever,” then that’s okay. That’s what makes him a hero, as opposed to the person who thinks it’s fine to act on a primitive urge.
    The “It’s all your fault” thing? Nuh-uh. Remember that Jodie Foster movie, “The Accused”? Now if he’d acknowledged his primitive urges and talked them over with her, admitted his guilt, then they’d worked through it together, that’d have made an interesting book. Bad boy determined to reform, not finding it so easy.
    The passport thing? Definitely not, but leaving it in an unsecured room in plain sight is close to criminal.
    I thought Polly sounded annoying, the kind of heroine who needs rescuing all the time.
    Mind you, I totally understand that trigger of annoyance in a book that sends the reader off the cliff. Mine is the woman who gets pregnant and then refuses to tell the father, given that he isn’t homicidal or otherwise a danger to the baby. Especially when he’s a millionaire, because then she’s selfishly depriving that child of the privilege that the baby is entitled to. See? I’m already going off on one. That’s together with the “I can’t get pregnant – oops” and the woman who gets pregnant despite having a course of chemo in her early teens. That’s turned up quite a lot recently.

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    I want to apologize if it seemed that I was saying that Australians are blind to rape culture or permissive of it – that is not what I meant and I apologize that I was not more clear.

    I read this book with the recent rape cases in the US sort of front and center in my mind, and when I came to the part where she passed out, and then he’s congratulating himself for not acting, well, as evidenced by the word count above, I lost my shit. My apologies.

  6. 6
    Aislinn says:

    Lynne, I suppose what I don’t get is how a man can find an unconscious woman so attractive. I find that really worrying. I always assume men like that get off on the power and control they can have over women. From my experience, decent guys seem to want their partners to equally participate in sex. The fact that this guy (I can’t even call him the hero) even considered sleeping with her when they were in that situation is quite terrifying for me.

    I think it is because they have done studies that say that rapists believe all men are naturally rapists. That they all have that primitive urge within them, and other men just don’t get caught. So, he seemed to have an attitude that was in line with that of a lot of convicted rapists. And I really don’t think society should encourage this idea that men have this primitive part in their brain that causes them to act that way, because I don’t think they do. It is just an awful excuse.

    @SBSarah, no problem. The cases we get in Australia probably don’t make international news like yours do, so you wouldn’t know that it gets pretty bad here, too.

  7. 7
    Dora says:

    I think it’s the culmination of everything. Just having “primitive urges” doesn’t make someone a bad person. Everyone occasionally has selfish base impulses. But here it’s context. His “primitive urge” here is to crawl in bed with a woman he KNOWS is drunk to the point of passing out, and then says it’s only “sophistication” that keeps him from doing so, instead of, you know, a basic human sense of right and wrong. For me there’s a difference between a sexual urge, and a sexual urge that’s encouraging you to take advantage of someone, and the latter is what’s definitely happening here, and for him to pass it off as no big deal is disturbing. Keeping her passport and not telling her when he knows she’s frantic? That sounds pretty frighteningly controlling to me.

    The review mentions Polly went on a journey of self discovery and “didn’t like the self she found”, and I think had the book mirrored that in Josh by having HIM discover these unpleasant traits himself and work towards improving them instead of just passing them off as something guys do, would have made it more sympathetic. Because that’s not what’s happening, it paints everything else he does and thinks in a different light. I remember reading a forum somewhere where some guy was complaining about a girl who didn’t want to go out with him, and as proof of character, says something like, “I drove her home while she was drunk. I could have taken advantage of her easy, but I didn’t.” As another forumer pointed out, “YOU DON’T GET BROWNIE POINTS FOR NOT RAPING SOMEONE.”

    It makes the other issues raised even more disturbing, such as Polly’s comments about how she “understands the consequences of her actions”, and then the “death pills” joke. Put in context with the story, it paints the picture of a woman who really does not value herself at all, and the problem is that it doesn’t seem like the narrative corrects that. It’s the sort of thing where something the author might have intended as a simple throwaway remark and didn’t mean for it to have any deeper connection with the rest of the events winds up being a subconscious symptom of the way society often views women, versus what men are expected to do and get away with, and that’s really disturbing when it’s romanticized here.

  8. 8
  9. 9

    There is a whole kinky cult in the BDSM subculture of having sex with an unconscious person. However, this is with CONSENT and the person is acting – it’s a ‘scene,’ not real. But it is there, which means there is a call for it.
    Which in turn probably means a lot of people feel it and don’t act on it, because, as Aislinn said, they know the difference between right and wrong.
    For us in the UK, we’re in the middle of a huge, huge scandal about people in the public eye having sex with underage children. It started with the Jimmy Saville scandal and now Operation Yew Tree at Scotland Yard is uncovering a lot more. A lot of the people are from the music scene, radio. So I can’t comfortably read books that include sex with heroines under 21 any more. While the age of consent is 16 over here, grooming means that actual abuse continues much longer, past the time the person becomes “legal.”
    It’s horrible and ugly and right now you can’t get away from it.

  10. 10
    Kavya says:

    I wonder if this simply means that some authors are just not able to write from the male perspective properly. Men are supposed to have sex on their brain all the time, and the writer is trying to be authentic or something. What is unfortunate is that she didn’t realize how it comes across when the guy is thinking about sex when the girl is passed out (but he doesn’t actually have sex with her – so he must be the hero!)
    There is such a fine line between decent guy and douche bag in literature.

  11. 11
    susan says:

    I am always astonished to see a “get the heroine unconscious-drunk” scene in a contemporary written in this decade. There is a scene in Jessica Clare’s Stranded with a Billionaire where the hero and his buddies (the heroes of the rest of the series) get together for their regular poker game/insider trading session, and the hero brings the heroine, to show that she is now an important part of his life. With the hero’s blessing, they ply her with drink so that she will black out and not remember where she went or what she heard. Nothing bad happens to her—not even a hangover! And the heroine is fine with what went down. I just kept thinking NO NO NO. I finished the book, but that scene took me right out of the story, and maybe even the series.

  12. 12
    laj says:

    I have tried to write two previous comments, but then deleted them. Too angry. This kind of asshat behavior is not romantic……it’s anti-romance and the worst sort of message to send to readers, especially young women.
    Oh what a train wreck!

  13. 13

    This is probably not important to anyone else, but I’m dying to know if she had an orgasm from penetration alone. The fact that he’s 35 and is surprised by this/considers it a challenge…well, I guess that’s not unusual, even in romance. It’s one of my major pet peeves though. Vaginal orgasm holy grail.

  14. 14
    Suzanne says:

    I have to agree with your review. In total, I like neither the hero or heroine. The hero seems like a borderline-dangerous jerk, and the heroine seems to make very poor choices for a woman of her age, especially given her vulnerability as a woman traveling alone.

  15. 15
    Nikki says:

    It makes me so angry that this is considered a “normal” thought process for men.

    The other night, I came home from the store and I had my hands full and I left my keys in the car. It sat in my driveway, unlocked, with the keys hanging there in the ignition all night. I made a stupid mistake and I should know better and I’m lucky I didn’t suffer any consequences for my actions beyond being embarrassed over breakfast the next morning. Because I sure had made it easy for someone to steal my car.

    But if someone had stolen my car, people might remark that I’d been careless, but everyone would still agree that stealing the car was wrong and the car thief was a criminal. Stealing someone’s property is wrong and everyone is expected to know that. Most people would be suspicious and judgemental of someone for even thinking about stealing my car, no matter how “easy” I made it for them. They’d be asking what that person was doing in the first place, walking around the neighborhood at night checking cars to see if the doors were unlocked and the keys were in them. It would be the same if I’d left my purse behind at a restaurant or forgotten my phone at the gym. I’d be considered careless, but the thief would be considered a criminal. Because stealing is wrong, no matter what.

    Why do we, as a culture, value a person’s body as somehow less than something like a car or a purse or a cell phone? Having your car stolen makes you a victim, but having your body violated makes you an irresponible fool? Or a slut? Or any of the other horrible insults that get hurled at rape victims?

    Deserving of being killed off for being too much trouble? What in the heck is wrong with this book?

    The girl shouldn’t have gone out with a stanger and gotten drunk. She was careless. That’s very true. But that doesn’t give anyone else a free pass with her body and not taking the “opportunity” doesn’t make him a nice guy and it sure as hell doesn’t make him some kind of hero.

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    @Jill: I honestly don’t know. I stopped reading after he convinced her to stay put instead of owning up to having her passport in his safe. I was too angry to keep going. I don’t *think* there was “vaginal orgasm holy grail” (though it wouldn’t surprise me if there had been) – but one thing I did like was that Polly owned her body and how it worked and spoke up about expectations during sex, etc. I thought that was unique, for sure. That said, I don’t know the answer to your question. I’m sorry.

  17. 17
    chacha1 says:

    You know … I just recently read “The Sheik” by E.M. Hull.  (Why?  Because I came across it in an antique store for a couple of bucks and remembered Elizabeth Peters making fun of it in “Die For Love.”)  And it is so, so awful for THIS VERY REASON.

    The damned thing is considered a classic of romance, and it begins with an abduction followed by two solid months of rape by the purported “hero,” who is a sexist asshat of mythic proportions.

    Because this was 1921 the rape is not graphic, but the reader is left in no doubt that this is what has happened, and what continues to happen.

    But what really, really set me into Full Rage was when the “heroine” (I don’t like her, either) has a chance to escape, almost gets away, gets re-captured (I am telling you all this so you don’t feel tempted to read the book, because AWFUL) and on her way back to captivity decides it’s okay.  In fact, it’s great, because SHE LOVES HIM, but oh woe, she must never let him know because that would give him even more power.

    I finished it because I thought “isn’t this supposed to be a classic?!” but I am still trying to bleach my brain.  I am tempted to re-write it so that Peters’ heroine (a TRUE heroine) Amelia Peabody finds the little runaway nitwit and fights off the rapist and teaches the heroine how to be a heroine and shoot that rapist in the nuts.

  18. 18
    JB says:

    @Nikki

    PREACH. That was a really great comment.

  19. 19
    Kate Z says:

    Not to in any way gloss over the vileness of the “hero” of this book . . . isn’t this pretty much par for the course with 98% of romance novels?  I admit, I don’t read many contemporaries (urban fantasy is the closest I get), but even the newer historical romances and romantic suspense tend to have male leads who A) pop boners within five seconds of meeting the heroine and B) fantasize about her in explicit terms, particularly if she’s “fragile,” “delicate,” “soft,” “helpless” . . . ugh.  It’s ALWAYS creepy, and it ALWAYS makes me uncomfortable, but I just have to skim over it or I’d never be able to read romance at all. 

    To be honest, Josh’s primitive hindbrain seems pretty typical.  I suspect this book is just a symptom of a much larger cultural sickness.

  20. 20
    Vasha says:

    @Aislinn, as a palate cleanser may I suggest Her Favourite Rival by Sarah Mayberry? Not only a genuinely supportive and respectful hero (though he has some lessons to learn in the course of the book), but some understanding of particular problems women face in the workplace, and because of people’s perception of them, and so forth. Seriously, the best feel-good book I read this year.

  21. 21
    JB says:

    Ugh. Ew ew ew. I know this has been touched on extensively, but I get really squicked out by the possessive/jealous hero being lauded as a ‘real man’, because for some reason it’s supposed to be sexy that a man views the object of his affections as an ACTUAL OBJECT. I understand getting jealous. I do. I think everyone does, to a point. But I’m reading a book right now from the Uniform Desires box set (it was .99 cents and my cheapness knows no bounds) where the hero has NO ATTACHMENT AT ALL to the heroine other than a boring one-night stand four months ago and he just… does the jealous slobbery thing and ARGH. He knows it’s wrong. He says this multiple times. Multiple. Every other page. Somehow, his sexual desire for the heroine which he *thinks* (but isn’t sure) is still mutual excuses the barbaric ‘hands-off-mah-woman’ tripe. But that doesn’t stop him from physically laying hands on the h and dragging her out of the bar against her will (stated in the text) and then assaulting her (kisses her against her will because he ‘knows she wants it’) all because she might be (she isn’t) flirting with another guy. He then asks her to go back to her room with him and she says yes but THAT ISN’T THE POINT. The point is, he overreacts, kisses her even though she resists him, and somehow that’s okay because he has The Horniness for her and it’s reciprocated. And of course she’s angry and he thinks that’s sexy because look at the cute little Wimmenfolk with their emotions and their justified irritation at being treated like furniture. And of course the h has some internalized sexism about crying because she thinks it’s weak and just… Sigh. This is the sort of stuff that makes me genuinely worry if a guy decides to pick up a romance novel as a guide to getting the ladies.

  22. 22
    Dora says:

    The problem, though, is that this ISN’T a normal thought process for men, and I sort of feel like by acting like it is, even in jest, and romanticizing it, we’re doing both genders a disservice. If we women get upset when we’re reduced to our genitals, why is it okay to do the same thing to men by reducing them to neanderthals who only think about sex and how they can get it? There are SO MANY men out there who wouldn’t even think ONCE about taking advantage of a woman in the heroine’s situation, and for me personally, a better statement would be, “It makes me so angry that people try to further the idea that this is, and should be, a normal thought process for men.”

  23. 23
    Jess says:

    Maybe I’m naive, but what I pictured from the first, bolded, quote was his desire to lie down next to her rather than have sex with her. I also read the primitive/sophisticated parts of the brain as referring to the brain stem vs the cerebral cortex, rather than sophistication as implying cultured/cosmopolitan/whatever.

    I found the other descriptions of his difficulty controlling himself more problematic, but I’m not sure I’d have read them that way if I hadn’t seen your interpretation first. That’s such a classic romance novel trope, though it’s one that annoys me more often than not. So, yeah, not sure.

    I agree with Lynne Connolly’s and Dora’s comments that it could have been awesome if he’d recognized his issues and worked on becoming a better person. Though I’m with you all the way on the passport thing, and I would’ve had to resist the urge to toss my ereader at that point. That sort of controlling bullshit is so NOT OKAY, and that it’s so common (and commonly accepted) is part of the rape culture. Women aren’t capable of thinking for ourselves, figuring out what’s best for us, and for that we need a big, strong, manly man to take care of us. *gag*

    (Aside: one of the few things I miss about paper books is the satisfying thud when flinging a dud against the wall)

  24. 24

    @SB Sarah Oh, well. Thanks anyway. I’d assumed that they had sex right after the convo, but I see now that it was before.

  25. 25
    Nemo says:

    I recall a story where the hero remembers a time when he was a teen and was buying a girl drinks and chatting her up in hopes of getting lucky (not with the intention to get her drunk).  At the end of the night she was falling down drunk and very willing and he remarks that he could easily have gone with the flow (he was tipsy, but less so than her) and gone upstairs with her.  He also remarks that it was the moment when he realized that he WASN’T a rapist and actually had the makings of a good person with morals so he drove her home.

    I liked it because he wasn’t saying “Hey, I could have raped her, but I didn’t where’s my cookie” he was saying “I was given the chance to take advantage of someone, not many people would have blamed me, but it was the wrong thing to do and I know what kind of person I am now.”  Kind of a ‘if you’ve never been tempted how do you know yourself’  moment when the idea of taking advantage of someone repulsed him.

    I had to put down a book recently because the hero kept going on about how much he hated seeing ‘women’ hurt and how he felt like he needed to protect ‘women’ and I thought that was bad!  My sympathies for having to read so much of this one.

  26. 26
    Camilla Morton says:

    I’m sorry but blaming the “hero” crap is old and cliche.  Hiding the passport was extremely creepy and wrong.  However, the “heroine” was TSTL.  Who in their right mind is going to allow herself to get drunk under circumstances where her safety is in question.  Out with friends and dancing doesn’t have involve getting smashed.  Her behavior is alcoholic in nature.  People are capable of many shades of impulse control.  Why risk your safety to drink irresponsibly, somehow believing that other people are supposed to watch out for you.  Part of being an adult responsible human being, is to make decisions that take of yourself.  Blaming others for your stupidity/emotional issues is immature.  Visiting countries that have differing cultural standards from your own implies a decision to see other ways of living and that means recognizing that a visitor can/will encounter different kinds of behavior.

  27. 27
    kkw says:

    Perhaps this is parsing things too much and/or incorrectly, but its ok by me if you see someone you’re attracted to climbing into your bed, and want to climb in with them. He’s not looking at her passed out and thinking he wants to get on top of her.
    I don’t mind him being attracted to her while she is drunk, and not wanting to take advantage. She is moving and speeking and indeed flirting when he has the errant thought. This is a world away from unconscious, which would unquestionably be crossing the line.
    The rest of his behavior appears well across that line, though, so I may be cutting him too much slack.
    @Nikki if it makes you feel better(?), your insurance company most likely would indeed have blamed you had your car been stolen – I was just talking with a friend who had that exact thing happen and her insurance wouldn’t pay out as a result.

  28. 28
    Jess says:

    @kkw, yes, that’s what I was trying to say! :) That first scene seemed fine to me, but then it got squickier as it went along, culminating in the passport atrocity.

  29. 29
    Maite says:

    @Dora: I was going to say the same thing, but you said it better.
    I’m still surprised that guys don’t complain about how they are represented, as a gender, in so many books. I have friends who DO have sex in the brain, and are quite vocal about it, but don’t even joke on forced seduction. I’ve met guys who complain about their jokes on MY behalf, and then I have to take their hand from where it was trying to slip underneath my clothes and graphically explain what I’ll do to it because they didn’t understand the two times I said “no”.
    @Nikki: Well said!

    I have a question though: Is it that there are more alphole heroes, or is that my bullshit-detector fine-tunes with each encounter? Because these days, it seems like TV and literature mistakes “protagonist” for “hero/heroine”. I am fine with there being no heroes (like in A Song of Ice and Fire), but I can’t deal when the narrative claims a hero that ain’t one.

     

  30. 30
    Sini says:

    Kate Z, romance novels have changed dramatically over the last 15-20 years.  Your conception of the heroes is old-fashioned. Nowadays 98 % of the heroes are actually the opposite of what you describe. But you said yourself you don’t know what you are talking about. The reason we are so appalled by this particular novel is the archetypal hero which we all thought had died already.

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