Monday, September 18, 2006

Some annoying things I've noticed lately

I went to the thrift store with Jeanette this weekend and picked up a couple books. What I read is relatively random - I've taken to heart the advice Orson Scott Card gave in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (regardless of what I may think of him personally) that one should read voraciously, and as indiscriminately as one chooses. So when I came across a Harlequin Historical romance called The Matchmaker, a Western about a town plagued by the secret mechanisms of - you guessed it! - a matchmaker, I thought, "What the hell. This could be campy fun."

This was the worst book I've read in a while, possibly even worse than a Regency romance I read a couple weeks ago that had scenes that were making me mad. This book was so bad, it didn't even piss me off. It was bewildering.

The author was competent enough - she could string words together in a grammatically correct manner, and they even had something to do with the words that went before them. (Some thing I often have difficulties with...) The problem is what the words were actually conveying. The situation looked promising: a secret meeting in the town tavern by the single menfolk to discuss the meddling matchmaker, and what they're going to do about it. (This might make you cringe, but a silly plot does not always make a bad read. It can make the read. It's called comedy.) Several characters were introduced, the plan devised, and tasks delegated. And then it went down hill.

There was poverty of description. We know what the characters generally look like, what they're wearing, what they're doing. We do not, however, have much of an idea, if any at all, what their surroundings look like. And when the surroundings are described, they're unconvincing for the Old West. Why would a bachelor have a marble pastry table in a house he nevers cooks in? Why would anyone other than the town baker have a pastry table? (I'm not even going to get into the idea of logging in Northern Arizona - that might require geographical research.)

Several characters are introduced as if they're going to be major sub-plots, but then the whole story focuses on the hero/heroine, who are, to a slightly less degree than everyone else, as two-dimensional as paper dolls. Even worse, the heroine is so naive and hair-brained that I was surprised she was allowed out of the house. Almost immediately I was thinking, "If he falls for her, he's just as stupid as she is." Think of Mrs. Bennet, young and in the Old West, spunkily trying to start up a bakery business, and you've pretty much got it. Except for the rack. She has a huge rack. (And it's not for storing utensils.)

It just gets stupider from there, without being funny or entertaining. (Sorry, Lisa Plumley, but that's my opinion. Maybe your other books are better...?)

Why am I going on and on about this? Because books have been making me a bit crazy lately. It's either a promising premise that lets me down in the execution, weak characterization, poorly thought out plots or annoying trends. It's getting very difficult to read genre fiction at all.

Take Jennifer Crusie. I seriously envy her for writing such wonderful light romantic comedy. However, I am getting sick of the word "lush" - she uses it in just about every novel. Lips are "lush", breasts are "lush", etc. This repetition reminds me of when I was on a Koontz reading kick in high school and had to stop because I noticed he had a particular, ten-cent word he used in every book. (Maybe I should try something like that. What do you say to me using the word "ubitiquitous" in every blog post from now on? Or how about "meander"?)

Crusie also describes her women as soft. The hero is attracted to their softness, etc. This isn't just something Crusie is doing, I've come across it in other romance novels. The heros are "hard." You know, everywhere. Abs of steel, etc. I don't know about you, but this whole hard/soft thing after a couple novels is putting me off. When I think of touching flesh - any flesh - I don't think "hard." Skin is soft. "Firm", I think, is a word that appeals to me more. And I don't want to be soft. I want to be Linda Hamilton. (Not that I'm doing much about it, but still...) All this "soft" talk is making me simultaneously feel fat and undesirably skinny.

Perhaps I just shouldn't read romance novels, because I get annoyed when the plot gets slowed down by the characters struggling with their lust or admiring bosoms. I know I've read books that had Happily Ever After endings and romance as part of the main plot that didn't do this in such an obvious and boring manner. (Jennifer Crusie manages this miracle.) Which reminds me of another thing I can't stand: lust posing as love.

The hero meets heroine, and it's lust at first sight for them both. Only, the heroine must maintain her dignity and resist. And she does this badly, because his buns are just so hard. Every little come on from this lust monger nearly has her caving in; where lust is concerned, she has no spine. Fortunately, near the end the hero realizes he loves this woman he has been debauching, so she won't be going of the whorehouse or anything like that at the grand finale. Happiness!

Of course, not every book is like this, but I have to wonder if it's truly inconceivable to have story where an attraction grows from feeling, or with getting to know someone? Just maybe once or twice? Or maybe a heroine who knows the meaning of the words, "No, you philanderer"?

I was wondering if maybe I'm bored with romance and lust, but I don't think so. I think I'm bored with this presentation of it.

But back to The Matchmaker again. This book could have been so awesome. I'm already rambling on far too long, my thoughts meandering everywhere, so I'll stop for now and tell you why I think it could have been so great tomorrow.


Jeanette said...

Sorry that the book was such a bomb. At least you didn't pay much for it though! You realize that even outside of novels people mistake lust for love all the time.

Carrie K said...

They do and they're almost as annoying as the novels. (Response to Jeanette's comment and not say, the post you wrote).

I can't read romance novels. (Much. I like Jennifer Crusie but most of them have me throwing the books at the wall.) It's all so contrived and silly and un-real.