Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I'm Not Worthy And Other Lame Excuses

Holy cow, last night I finally finished Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible. This has to be the longest it has ever taken me to read a book that I actually liked. I mean, when I started reading Lord of Scoundrels, my family had to spend the entire day looking at a book cover instead of my face, and I know I was up until at least 3 am to finish it. With Mr. Impossible, I chiseled away. A few pages here, a chapter or two there.

Which kind of sums up my feelings about this book. I liked it. A lot. Enough that every time I picked it up I was excited to get back to it. But unlike Lord of Scoundrels, this one didn't grab a hold of my brain and refuse to let go. So at the risk of defying the romance reader gods out there, I think I'd rank this a solid B+ read. LoS earned an A+ and is maybe number one on my list of keeper books (certainly one of the top five), so I don't think I'm hurting Loretta Chase's feelings any. She's an amazing writer. I can only hope that some day I'm a fraction as good as she is.

There are a couple of things that bumped MI down to a B read rather than an A. One of them came as a surprise to me, but the other issue is something that always irks me when it's employed in romance novels, so it warrants discussion. Here's the SPOILER WARNING - if you haven't read this book, you may want to skip this entry.

The first thing - the thing I didn't expect going into the book - was my reaction to the hero, Rupert Carsington. I liked Rupert. He really flew against convention. From the beginning he presented himself to the heroine and to us readers as kind of an affable but slightly dim-witted bloke, smile at the ready but not too quick on the uptake.

I guess I was thinking that as the reader, old Rupert and I were in on some private joke. He wasn't really as obtuse as he pretended to be. Beneath the "Ah, shucks ma'am," demeanor lay a razor-sharp wit and keen mind, a man who used his acting abilities to fool those around him so they would be completely unsuspecting when he proved to be a genius.

Except, Rupert never proved to be a genius.

Granted, he did demonstrate that he had street smarts and a great big heart and a healthy dose of common sense. But on several occasions, Rupert even berated himself for being an idiot. He really didn't view himself as being smart in any way, and what he presented to those around him really did reflect the true man.

This all came as a surprise to me because I'm so used to heroes who are above average in the ability to out-think pretty much everyone. Having a hero who is just average in that area was a difficult concept for me to grasp. I just kept waiting for Rupert to whip off the mask, so to speak, and reveal his inner brainiac. At every turn I expected him to reveal that really, he'd been a super-special top spy during The War or a military mastermind or something equally impressive, and that he had a plan that would solve all of their problems immediately. Never happened.

What really got me, though, is how much this lack of intelligence held me back from falling in love with Rupert. I mean, he was a good guy. Gorgeous. Sexy. Funny and sweet and romantic. And he got the job done. His lack of intelligence didn't cause any real problems. But I just couldn't get out of my head this image of a grinning class clown, a guy who'd be the first person you'd call when you were throwing a party but the last person you'd want around in a tough situation that required lightening-fast decision making to save your ass.

The real shock is that I've learned how much I've bought into the stereotypical romance hero convention. Rupert is probably way more realistic than most heroes out there. But I've gotten so used to a hero who is completely over the top that my expectations are warped. I haven't quite resolved what that means - if I need to read more books that provide a normal-guy hero or if I just prefer those bigger-than-life alpha men and should stick with them.

My second issue with this book is something that always annoys me when I encounter it in a romance novel. I'm sure it has a formal name, but I refer to it as the "Why the hell not?" problem. I encounter it whenever the hero and/or heroine say they can't do something they really want to do but offer up an excuse that, for the life of me, I cannot see or understand.

In this instance - SPOILERS! - Rupert and Daphne have returned from a horrific experience that had drawn them closer together. So close, in fact, that their body parts managed to fit together in a most intimate way. But once back in civilization, both characters spend several paragraphs introspecting how they can no longer engage in such intimacies.

Now, I completely bought their excuse for not wanting to carry on an affair. The time period dictated that such behaviour would be completely inappropriate. Daphne's brother would never approve, and even though the argument that word would reach England and possibly ruin Daphne's reputation seemed kind of thin to me, I could go along with it.

But when Rupert suggests that they get married and Daphne refuses, the old "Why the hell not?" problem reared it's ugly head.

Daphne was a widow. Rupert was unattached. Both were from families on equal social standing, from what I could tell. They'd already discovered they were sexually compatible. Rupert had proven that he was as different from Daphne's misogynistic first husband as Egypt is from England. So why the hell couldn't they get married?

I think the answer was supposed to be Daphne's insecurities about her nerdiness. She felt that she was such a boring person, she could never get married. At least, that's what I got out of the scenario. Oh, and that Rupert was not the kind of guy who would be happy with a person like Daphne, or so Daphne believed despite the fact that from the time he met her, Rupert showed no inclination for skirt chasing or that he wanted anyone else.

A lot of romance novels lean on the lack-of-self-esteem-on-the-part-of-the-heroine excuse to allow the heroine to say no to a perfectly doable scenario. This drives me crazy.

Perhaps it's because I generally do not suffer from a lack of self esteem and therefore have a really hard time putting myself in the heroine's shoes. If a man pretty much throws himself at the heroine's feet and performs all kinds of heroic feats to keep her from harm, how can she honestly be so blind as to think he's not interested? To me that smacks of dim-wittedness on the part of the heroine, and I kind of just want to smack her and tell her to wake up.

Not that this ploy never works. Sometimes the writer has done a wonderful job in painting a heroine with major insecurities, and throughout the entire story these insecurities have been a factor. Or perhaps the hero has acted in such a way as to keep the heroine guessing as to his true feelings.

In Mr. Impossible, though, I saw Daphne as a pretty confident woman. She felt comfortable haggling with locals and demonstrating her considerable temper. She treated Mr. Carsington much as a child when she first met him and believed him to be slower than slow. She was more than aware of her amazing intelligence, and once she and Rupert did the nasty, she could have had no doubt at all that he found her physically attractive.

For his part, Rupert told Daphne on several occasions how much he admired her brain. He never made fun of her or mocked her obsession with Egyptian hierogliphics. As far as I could tell, there was no reason at all for Daphne to believe that Rupert would find her nerdiness boring or tiresome.

So when she trotted that excuse out as a reason to say no to his marriage proposal, I winced.

When it comes to internal conflict, I need it to be believable. I don't want something manufactured at the last minute to keep the hero and heroine apart. When an otherwise confident heroine all of the sudden feels insecure and therefore declines a perfectly acceptable proposal from a man she's fallen in love with, I can't help but condemn her to the TSTL zone.

Since I liked Daphne so much otherwise, she escaped that harsh sentence. But she did earn a "Why the hell not?"

All this said, I still enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

Next on the docket is Anne Stuart's Black Ice, which promises a hero so dark and nearly-irredeemable I'm already tingling. What kind of sicko am I that I'd prefer borderline psycho to nice guy party boy?


Anonymous said...

Seems like I was right not to rush to pick up MI again after returning from Chicago...

I just hope Chase's next - about another of the Carsington brothers? - is as good as Miss Wonderful, even if not up to the standard of Lord of Scoundrels.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and PS: what's TSTL?

meljean said...

I'm really going to have to pick up BLACK ICE. I'm hearing about it everywhere :D

I love MR. IMPOSSIBLE -- I had the same problems with it, but in the end I was so charmed by the book I found it didn't lessen my enjoyment very much. It was definitely a keeper for me. LoS -- I don't think any book will ever live up to that :D

Lynn M said...

TSTL = too stupid to live, which sums up any behaviour that makes no rational sense given the character and the circumstances.

I did like MI very much, don't get me wrong. It's going to stay on my keeper shelf even if I don't rank it a DIK *g*. I especially love that it was set in Egypt and that Daphne was so smart and that Rupert wasn't the normal hero. Perhaps Meljean makes a good point in that since LoS was so amazing, nothing will ever measure up to it.

I haven't picked up Miss Wonderful but am now thinking I should...

Rachel said...

Hi Lynn, I recently read MI and I agree with the grade you gave it. For me, the main problem throughout was that Chase fell into the old telling-and-not-showing trap. And we the readers were expected to simply believe.

For example, although we were told the heroine was a genius, I never felt she possessed anything more than an average intelligence--it didn't help that she was constantly thinking something along the lines of, "Her brain usually worked much quicker, but, dang, that Rupert made her go all fuzzy headed."

For the same reason, perhaps you had a hard time understanding why Daphne wouldn't accept Rupert's proposal because, although we were told many times that Daphne's first marriage was horrible and traumatic, we never got a glimpse of what she actually went through beyong a few brief quotes of the ex-hubbie ("You're a failure of a women," etc.).

What Chase expected us to take her word for was that Daphne was left badly scarred by her first marriage, and so could not get past her fears to see how different Rupert was.

On a different note, although I found Rupert quite likeable, I also couldn't really warm up to him as a romance novel hero, not because he wasn't brilliant but because *he* saw himself as rather dumb. For me, the hero can be average in looks or intelligence, but he needs to have confidence in himself.