The two-hitter is a common theme in romance novel publishing. (Am I using two hitter right? I don’t care enough about baseball to check.) For those of more elevated tastes, who are therefore unaware of what this might mean, oftentimes romances are published with two stories to a book; they tend to be 200 pages or less, and the good ones are great. The bad ones are…incomplete.
I recently consumed two of these, one by Nora Roberts (if you are hearing a choir of angels singing, that’s a reflection of the deity she is in publishing), and one with a story each from a couple of authors, Lori Foster (generally an okay author) and Elda…Minger. (Feel free to giggle like you’re fourteen and just learning what this might mean.) (Really. This is what pseudonyms are for!)
(I do have a problem.)
The one by Foster and Minger (chuckle) totals 213 pages, so each story is nothing if not abbreviated. There’s not much character development, but at least they’re interesting storylines, if a little dubious. The first, Body Heat, is about an estranged couple who get stranded alone after being thrown off a vessel in a gale (which is, of course, their fault for bickering on the deck of a pleasure boat during a storm). It doesn’t get any more plausible when the couple get to shore with the woman on a flotation device (which was conveniently cast into the water) and with her future lover doing all the work. Apparently, she was desperately afraid of sharks, so she couldn’t help paddle; and apparently, her gentleman wasn’t working hard enough, so that he could stare at her butt as he kicked along.
It’s not really supposed to mirror real life, and yet…I do have expectations.
The story proceeds exactly as you think it might, leading up to the final scene when they reunite after a few months back on land. As he sees her for the first time since the accident, and that last disagreement that had separated them, he notes: “The dress she wore was tiny, snug, and matched the floral décor of the many patio tables and open umbrellas” (page 101). Excuse me? No. No woman on this planet with any fashion sense – and any choice in the matter – would dress to blend in with her outdoor furniture. Of all the improbable aspects of this tale, this takes the cake. Let’s see how it measures up to the next one…
Minger’s (oh God, I can’t take it! It’s too good!) is called Slow Burn, because it’s classy. Another pair of estranged lovers – this time a pair who got married and then divorced after six months, because of yet another misunderstanding. As we enter into things, its been six years, the man in the senario had found buried treasure, and he’s opened a highly lucrative luxury resort. He rigged a contest so that his lady love could win. (Bear with me…)
The whole charade fell apart for me when she fainted – fainted! – when she saw him again. It’s my solemn opinion that anytime someone faints in real life or in fiction, there had better be poltergeists or severe blood loss involved. And it’s only downhill from there – she falls into his plans and his arms like butter sliding on a hot griddle. I’d have raked him over the coals just a little more for his machinations, for the abuse of privacy incurred over the whole process. Of course, that story wouldn’t have ended in a tidy 102 pages. Comparing the two, though, I still think that dressing to match tables and umbrellas still takes the cake. Let’s see if Nora Roberts can compare…
I’ll start with the second book of the two, Less of a Stranger; a closeted sculpturist spends a good chunk of time helping to maintain her grandfather’s small amusement park, which is aging and in desperate need of an overhaul. In comes in Mr. Man, who decides that, because he has money and instincts (not to mention a stupidly diverse investment portfolio) wants the park and the woman to go along with it. We get a lot of B.S. in this one about how strong the woman is – mainly because she owns a motorcycle – but she folds like origami at every turn. Not to mention that she says ‘no’ (or at least, not ‘yes,’ which is just as bad) whenever he co-ops her and pulls her in for one of his burning kisses. Hah. No strong woman would leave him as is, at least not without making him breathe hard through his nose and clutch himself in pain.
The crazy part is that toward the end, our heroine screams at him through the beginnings of a ringer of a storm: “’Don’t you understand a simple no?’ She shouted at him, her voice competing with pounding surf and raising wind. She struggled against his hold. ‘I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I don’t care about what you have to say’” (394). Okay. A couple of notes: for one, it’s great to see what’s-her-face finally show a little backbone…only to do exactly what her man tells her to do. Secondly, ‘she struggled against his hold’ means that he wasn’t hearing no, and he certainly wasn’t feeling it either. This smacks of future domestic violence; her instincts were right – at least, what instincts she had before she got blasted by the love narrative, before she saw a usually absent slime-covered blister riding a white horse.
This book very nearly had flying lessons, especially because of the first story:
Untamed is about a lion trainer at a circus whose reins have gone to the estranged son of the recently deceased owner, a slick lawyer from Chicago. She falls for him; he tends to disappear for long stretches without sending so much as a cryptic postcard in his wake.
The characters fall into the same traps as the book to follow (though it isn’t so rape-y), but with added nuggets. Such as: lion training. No. Nope. No. And she’s not just dealing with one lion. That would be too easy. She has twelve. Twelve! 1-2! The whole premise of the book rests on her ability not to get eaten. Sure, people have survived these sorts of feats since time immamorial – in the Dirobo tribe in southern Kenya, for example, men steal meat from lions in the middle of a meal. You have to be able to bluff your way into and out of the situation, and you do it quick. I also very much doubt that anyone would try this alone in real life. So stick a skinny woman in a cage with twelve animals, give her a whip that touches none of the cats, and a stressful environment – cheering crowds and weird smells – and call her…deceased. (Closed coffin funeral.)
Sure, at one point she did have a showdown with the animals, but she emerged from that relatively superficially scratched, not gouged, not maimed. She still had all her bits. (And at that point in the story, you’re pulling for true love, but you’re also, to be frank, rooting for the lions.)
So everyone survives. At the end, the lawyer gives the circus to the lion idiot and goes back to Chicago. She goes after him, finds him at his apartment, professes her love, and gives up her job completely. She spent the whole book justifying her career and the circus! She gave it up! All the friends and family she’s ever had – poof. She no longer needs to be around them. She’s got Mr. Justice with the tortured eyes, and that’s it for her. Pah.
What I take away from this – aside from several hours reading and some pleasurable consternation – is that romance novels love a woman who doesn’t know what she is thinking. The best of the lot was probably Body Heat, because the woman there fought her guy (even when it was completely pointless); it’s the only relationship that isn’t entirely likely to devolve into control and dependency. As for the most flagrant defiance of reality…I am still torn between matching a dress to the décor and the complete impossibility of surviving twelve lions.