I’ve Dated That Guy

Lisa Kleypas tends to surprise me, and her book Suddenly You was no exception. Of course, the ending was exactly what you would expect, but there were certain departures from the stereotype that I didn’t see coming. Much of the story remains formulaic – a lowborn social climber who goes into industry always makes a lot of money, corners the market, and has whipping scars on his back – but there are moments of lucidity, rare in these productions.

He won’t seduce her if she’s drunk; she’s a spinster and intrepid writer who wants to know what sex is like, and who goes to the length of hiring the services of a gentleman of the evening (they get set up by the brothel owner/matchmaker); she has an independent lifestyle; he turns out to be five years younger than she is (which is frankly improbable, considering his booming, rather than nascent, business); she kicks up a fuss about this age difference, which is a bit rich, considering that the age difference is usually five years in the other direction. She even loses her baby – which, naturally, was the impetus for her marriage – something I have never seen happen in another story.

Even more shocking is that the book references the London stink: for an extended time in the city’s history, the place was an extreme health hazard. Essentially, if the sewage wasn’t chucked in the basement (the diarist Samuel Pepys recounts a time when he had to go check something in his cellar and – er – ruined his shoes), it went on the street; everything ended up in the river in the end, and the drinking water was…brown. Needless to say, cholera was rampant and the place smelled like shit. That a romance novel would mention it is incredible, and inserts some rather disconcerting reality. If you would like to know more – over lunch, perhaps – there was a great TED talk done on the subject.

I digress.

The crux of the plot rests on how much the heroine wants physical intimacy and how much the hero shies away from commitment. So when she gets pregnant, she thinks he won’t have anything to do with her; that’s when Gentleman #2 steps in, a middle-aged widower with a fondness for children.

So let’s really look at her prospects:

The Tortured Hero-Publisher:
a little unstable
terrible personal history
emotionally distant
extremely sexy

The Kind Widower:
nice country pile someplace
is supportive of her writing
loves kids
attractive in a quiet way
won’t goad her into anything she doesn’t want
keeps her best wishes in mind
is realistic

So who do YOU choose?

I don’t have to think about it. Contestant Number Two has my full attention. Why? I’ve dated the Tortured Publisher a couple of times – though I will grant that these guys have had less to complain about than their fictional counterpart. ‘Save yourself from me’ never sounds good, and tends to produce a vast amount of terrible poetry. Which you keep to remind yourself of your resolve to make better choices. (That’s right, I kept it.)

If I had been the heroine of the story, the sexy brooder would have had my footprints running across his back. But that’s the thing about fiction – it can twiddle with some of the overall mores of the genre, but it can’t break years and years of tradition. The sexiest guy will always get the woman, whether or not he’s the best option. The boring guy will roll over the minute he sees the writing on the wall, go back to his country estate, find some nice local woman, and live out his pastoral existence. I’m finding myself rooting more and more for the underdog – one of these days, that poor guy in the background of most of these books is going to get his time in the limelight. Maybe I’ll be the one to do it.


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