Sunday, February 20, 2005

Crash and Burn

Remember in my last entry I said that as of page 57 I was really enjoying my current read, Mackenzie’s Pleasure by Linda Howard? Well. I’m sad to say that it all fell apart on me. In fact, it fell apart so spectacularly by using some of my most hated romance novel clichés that it warrants a discussion.

There are spoilers in this post, so if you were/are planning to read this book and don’t want to know what happens, come back tomorrow. Also, this is a rather long entry. If you don’t have the time, might want to back away slowly. Otherwise, grab a cup of hot chocolate and pull up a seat.

To catch you up to speed: Barrie Lovejoy has been taken hostage. Zane Mackenzie is the Navy SEAL sent in to rescue her. He finds her trussed up, naked, in a building, hauls her out after some narrow escapes, and the two of them hole up in a derelict building to wait out the day so they can escape under cover of darkness.

Cliché Pet Peeve #1: Stupid Excuse for Having Sex Masquerading as a Good Reason

Let me say, there are a lot of stupid reasons for having sex. But most of the time, everyone involved (including the writer) admits that the reason is stupid and goes for it anyway. No one pretends that the stupid reason is really a good reason. That's the part that really rubs me.

Barrie was not raped by her captors, but she did suffer some major manhandling and had figured it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. She’s no simpleton. She knows she and Zane aren’t out of danger yet and there’s a chance she could end up right back where she started, facing rape or worse. Here’s the kicker – Barrie is a virgin. She determines that her first sexual experience isn’t going to be a rape. Oh no. She’s going to pick the who, what, where, when and why. Enter our hero. He’s buff and sexy. He’s protective and warm and secure. He’s male and breathing. A perfect candidate.

I would have bought almost any other premise than the virginity angle. How about she had been so traumatized by what those men had done to her that she wanted to forget it all in a bout of mindless sex? How about she had witnessed so much death and bloodshed she needed a confirmation of life, which could be found in a bout of mindless sex? Or how about she was in such a state of shock, she clung to the nearest man, which led to a bout of mindless sex? Any of these reasons would have made some (albeit dubious) sense to me because I can understand the reactions of a victim such as Barrie to be a bit crazy, her need to reaffirm that she’s alive leading to a bout of mindless sex with a hunky guy.

The entire situation is so far out there – so unbelievable – that trying to plaster a sensible explanation onto it is pointless. OK, Zane and Barrie needed to have sex for the plot, which in itself is debatable. But don't try to elevate what this really is by forcing a pretty bow on it. It's stupid sex. Call it that and move on.

Cliché Pet Peeve #2 – Hero’s Unprofessionalism

When darling Barrie asks Zane to make love to her (yep, those are the words she used), what does the guy do? Does he protest heatedly, knowing that she is suffering from shock from her ordeal, incapable of making a truly rational decision? Does he point out to her that she is suffering a serious case of hero-worship toward the man who rescued her? Does he push her away, assuring her that he won’t let anything happen to her so her concerns about rape are unfounded? Does he remember that he’s currently in the midst of a mission, hiding in a fairly insecure place?

No. He lays down on the floor, gestures toward his nether regions and basically says “Have at it.”

What kind of hero goes along with this? He’s a Navy SEAL, on a mission. She is his rescue-ee, a victim who is in a state of shock. And a self-confessed virgin, no less. Sure, he wants her. He wants her bad. But don’t they all?

Howard explains Zane’s un-hero-like reaction by having him “understand” Barrie’s need to control her own sexual destiny. In effect, he’s doing her a big favor, letting her use his body to not only devirginize herself but to get back at all those nasty men who poked and prodded her during her capture. What a great guy!

I'll just skip what Zane's willingness to go along with Barrie's "deflower me before they have a chance to rape me" scheme says about his confidence in his ability to get her out of danger. Maybe he's just a realist.

Cliché Pet Peeve #3 – The Orgasmic Virgin

Despite being an inexperienced virgin, somehow Barrie manages to straddle her big SEAL and figure out what goes where. And as a nod to realism, her efforts to insert tab A into slot B are quite painful. So painful, in fact, that she has to ask for help, which the ever-accommodating Zane is more than happy to give. In short order, the pain is forgotten and copious amounts of pleasure ensue. Barrie not only gets a generous mate on her first try, she gets the big O in spades.

Now, to further make me scream in laughter, Barrie and Zane proceed to make love several more times throughout the day. Please. I don’t care how masterful the lover or how mind-blowing the orgasms, no woman would be able to endure what would have to be excruciating pain that would come from making love all day long after having just lost her virginity.

Cliché Pet Peeve #4 – Sex Leads to True Love, Forget About All the Getting To Know You Stuff

I’m going to skip the part about how once Barrie and Zane do the nasty, it becomes “making love” and not sex. I just don’t have the words to go into that.

However, I will point out this. Before Barrie mounts her new man, she knows a sum total of three things about him:
1 – his name
2 – that he’s a Navy SEAL
3 – that he has blue eyes and a great body

Since they are hiding, long discussions and sharing of histories, likes and dislikes weren’t possible. I would guess the couple spent less than a full 24 hours together, a good 95% of that time probably silent. When they are finally rescued, there is not chance for lingering good-byes because Zane has been seriously wounded and Barrie doesn’t even get to see him before she is whisked back home.

So imagine my dismay when Barrie confesses tearfully to her father how much she loves this man who saved her life. Whaaa? When did that happen?

What's really laughable about this is one of the reasons Barrie mentally lists for falling in love with Zane. If you'll recall, when Zane found her, Barrie had been stripped naked. He gallantly removes his own shirt and gives it to her. She interprets this as an example of Zane's goodness and perfection. I'm sorry, but what else was he going to do? Drag a naked woman through the streets of Benghazi? Any remotely competent SEAL would do the same thing, wouldn't he? Is it really a reason to fall in love with the guy?


It’s funny because I liked the characters in this book. I liked Zane - he's a dream boat of an Alpha hero, the kind I love best. I liked Barrie - she's no simpering miss, instead sucking it up like a trooper in order to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. I liked the scenario and the promise of the story. All of the elements were there for me to just love this story. I wanted these two kids to get together. Really!

And I do believe that love or (even more likely) an intense physical attraction can arise out of a crises situation over a short amount of time. Larissa did a wonderful job outlining the components necessary to create such a believable scenario and a check list that I think bears following when attempting this kind of feat. Sadly, given the circumstances surrounding Barrie and Zane, I don't see how some of the most basic elements were even touched upon much less met. Thus I felt we readers were forced to buy stuff so completely off the plane of reality that it all fell apart. This is all the more annoying since I can see no good reason for it.

What could have happened that I would have liked/believed/accepted and still would have allowed for the future happenings in the book?

Zane could have rescued Barrie, along the way being forced to kill a few guys. Barrie, so traumatized by her experience turns toward Zane for comfort. Zane offers that comfort, and before either one realizes what’s happening, they are having sex. Once. Because afterwards, Zane feels awful about it. Absolutely full of regret for his complete breach of ethics. And a non-virginal Barrie is apologetic, trying to ease Zane’s guilt with a lot of “It was my fault, too.” They go their separate ways, and afterward both of them continue to be haunted by their one passion-filled encounter. Maybe it means something. Maybe they should get to know each other better to see if love is in their cards.

Pick up story, continue.

Yeah, I know. I’m not Linda Howard. *sigh*


Wendy said...

Stupid reason to have sex is a big pet peeve of mine too. Like you pointed out, there are sooooo many good--not to mention--plausible reasons to bring the H/h together, why muck it up?
I really dislike the we're-prentending-to-be-a-couple-for-undercover-work so let's do it, get it out of the way, then we'll be able to fool everyone. What's that about?
Great post.

Anonymous said...

Oh, do I know how you feel, Lynn! I've lost count of the number of books I've read where some major plot point is just too stupid, too inconceivable, to believe. And because so much of the rest of the book depends on it, I find it impossible to take the book seriously from then on. Those are the sort of books I want to throw across the room; while I do finish reading them, I pretty much skim, put them in the recycling pile and write a 1-star review on Amazon to vent my frustration. ;)

Here's a minor example - nothing as significant as yours, but it was in the Silhouette I just finished this morning. (Research! I'm reading them for research! I'm trying to write for that line, after all!). Hero and Heroine finally get together. Heroine has just had baby (of late husband, not of hero). She's supposed to wait six weeks before having sex, but tells him - this is her third child, after all - that it probably won't take that long; her best friend was at it again before that (note: she doesn't say that she was). Three weeks after delivery, she and Hero are at it hammer and tongs. All day long for three solid days. They don't leave their hotel room. Now, I've never had a baby, but SURELY that would be WAY too painful, not to mention causing the Heroine some serious damage?

Sigh. Roll eyes. Close book. Add it to recycling pile. Vow never to make that sort of idiot mistake in own book. Wonder how author managed to get published. Sigh again.