Monday, August 8, 2011

In Defense of Sex: A Very Minor Rant...


It really steams me how much people devalue the romance genre. Such terms as "bodice ripper" and the most derogatory of them all "porn", really gets me going. Imagine my surprise when I was looking at the reviews for A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, a book that had caught my attention while running errands in Target, I saw quite a few of the one stars littered liberally with these descriptions. Truthfully I never quite believe most of the reviews on Amazon because taste is so uniquely personal that not everyone is going to enjoy the same thing. What I'm usually looking at in the reviews is a balanced ratio of like to dislike. Not completely scientific but mostly accurate when I branch out with a new author.

Mr. Goolrick's reviews appeared to pass muster of my little system but it was the frequent usage of disparaging comparisons of the romance genre to his story that really had me intrigued. There was an almost puritanical fervor in the prose reviewers used in their scathing critique of his fiction. While in the positive recommendations of the work there was very little mentioned about the sex some found so offensive. Of course I didn't read all the reviews but the little I did read led me to believe I needed to get this book.

The book is set during the early decades of the Twentieth Century during winter in Wisconsin. There is a wealthy businessman in need of a wife and a mysterious woman in need of a wealthy husband in order to become a wealthy widow. I was immediately sold when in the description of the book I knew the mysterious woman was planning to kill the wealthy businessman. Devious and a bit twisted you may think but I was intrigued non the less. Now as the title of this blog implies, this is not a review but instead a rant. The book was often overly flowery in its descriptions and had a surreal quality of time and space that left me feeling adrift at times, but what I can definitely say is this was no "bodice ripper" or "porn".

This was a story about isolation both the physical and the emotional. The subsequent darkness and often madness that such isolation causes and the promise of redemption that sex and all its intimacies can deliver. There are no quaint little drawing rooms where Victorian etiquette is practiced by the hero and heroine. There may be a villain but the face of his character changes constantly throughout the narrative that at times I couldn't quite decide what was particularly villainous. My rant is centered around the fact that there is such a lack of respect for the genre that I love and write in that a book that does have sex, however tragic in its presentation, is written off as pure smut.

While the language was a disjointed stream of consciousness that upon reflection accurately described the disjointed reality of the characters, the sex was in my opinion frank and accurate. It was at times sweet and tender with a edge of malice. It was raw and animalistic with a hint of the divine while whispering its blasphemies. Did it sound like a male narrative of the act, yes, and was I often put off by this maleness that expressed sexuality so differently than my own, quite possibly. Does that mean I get on my moral high horse and diss an entire genre of fiction because said sex didn't always prescribe to my definitions, no. Or because I thought this book was supposed to be "gothic" or a "suspense" I rip it to shreds because it has several scenes of copulation, absolutely not.

I really think people need to get over themselves and put down their scarlet letters. Sex in a story does not devalue it in the same way that sex alone can't make it better. When I finished the book I couldn't really say if I liked it or disliked it because I was haunted by a great deal of what was presented in the story and it didn't have anything to do with the sex.

As for rants this is pretty mild in comparison to my usual tirades but as I still sit with the story, or more accurately as the story still sits with me, I had to share some of my ire.



  1. I have found that when critics are disappointed by something they thought they were going to get and in reality it is not..., they abuse their opinionated prose. Everyone will not like everything, but when a hired critic or reviewer is looking for "their moment" and they don't get it, they can be downright hateful. There are not many who can disassociate enough to "NOT" diss like an immature spoiled child, but everyone has a right to their opinion. That being said, don't get mad, just be glad that you are one of the few that are intelligent enough to make your own decision regarding a worthwhile read. Sometimes a book by accident opens your mind, you said haunted, that's a very intense word. That book did more than the written critique. It opened your mind..., who knows it might be fodder for a new creation that has nothing to do with being tormented. Just a thought.

  2. Honestly, a lot of these people throw these words, because it's how they routinely describe anything that offends them. It's rarely appropriate, when you consider what the terms mean.

    Worse than that is when people that clearly haven't read a book throw out terms that don't apply. The tag system on Amazon is littered with this. For instance, one of my Kegin books has been tagged with things like incest and menage, when those things are not even in the book. There's no way to report individual tags as abuse, either. I worry that these things will end up with people avoiding the book for incorrect tagging as much as I worry that someone will purchase it to get the content and be miffed that it's not there.

  3. I've never been fond of the term 'bodice rippers' for one. Who set the precedent of what qualifies a book as a 'porn' or a 'bodice-ripper.' I think people throw out these terms so fast and loose that no one really knows what they mean anymore. If we all cut our teeth on Harlequin novels, we would assume that all hero's are business men that are ruthless powerful and rich and all the heroine's are clueless airheads whose dilemma could be solved in the first five pages. Yet, we all did not read Harlequin and write in that fashion. If we were to say all romance novels are bodice-rippers, then that would mean that we all are 'bodice-ripper' readers...
    I, as a reader, do not want to classified as 'just' something... I don't think we should stifle or shove writers in the same box either.

  4. Good writing is good writing. I don't know why there is such a stigma attached to a book that features sex. This maybe my inner feminist speaking, but it just seems to me that its a way to put female writers down by undermining the quality of their work. That's my mini rant anyways.

  5. It seems that romance is dogged so much b/c generally it is geared towards women. Despite some male authors posing as females, the romance genre seems to be written primarily by women and consumed primarily by women. If one looks at the best sellers overall, books with aspects of romance DOMINATE the lists.

    I've noticed that anything that when a male does something that is traditionally termed 'women's work' (such as cooking or sewing) it gets renamed into something special like CHEF or DESIGNER and you will note how many women are left out of it when it becomes a serious money-making endeavor.

    Due to men and their view of masculinity, many won't cross over publically so they rip it.

    Another issue is the fact that in romance books women tend to ENJOY WANT AND CRAVE the intimacy or sex and the man PAYS ATTENTION to the woman and her needs, not just focusing solely on his own pleasure. That is an upset of the status quo, and therefore people find it unacceptable.