The dumbest word I’ve read these past couple of weeks is ‘unfoldment.’ The worst blow was looking it up in Merriam-Webster to find…it’s a real thing. If I were to say such an inflammatory thing as ‘God is dead,’ it would be now.
Of course, I encountered this slimy little node in a romance novel, in the midst of a cold that struck me as lightning strikes a denier in the middle of a field. I don’t read Real Books when I get sick, so I hunkered down with a box of tissues and The Sinful Nights of a Nobleman by Jillian Hunter (#s 4, 9, 14, 19). I knew from the cover (which has a repellent pink Cupid on it) that it would be a lulu, but nothing makes a cold recede faster than vicious complaining. I’m feeling better now, but the bug has bitten me, so I might as well keep on going.
Most of what we know about the hero is that he’s part of a powerful and lecherous family. We also know that he’s at a house party to bag a large-titted widow, but that he can’t stop thinking about the heroine, who is innocent, virginal, and apparently (in modern terms) ‘bangable.’ He thinks about the heroine’s appearance on page 4, twice on page six, again on page nine, and then on page 11. We get it: he’s fixated on her. (Not like a sexual predator or serial killer – of course not! Noo. He’s a good dude, even though he has no scruples.)
Of course, she’s not precisely what she seems: she’s meant to be lily-white in reputation, but at one point her nipple is almost visible under her gown (11), and just before her wedding she makes a bawdy joke in front of all those assembled during a toast. (This is believable! Yes yes!)
I snorted in surprise and blew bubbles in my tea.
When these two nightmares get slammed together by a shoddily-arranged scheme, the results are predictable. On the wedding night, he says, “’ I don’t have to do anything to arouse you’” (188). Later, he says that he could never hurt a woman, disregarding the emotional damage he leaves in his wake (202). And then he blames her for a sleeze coming up to her and seeing how far he could get (234). All of these are problems with the hero: there aren’t any problems with her because she’s not enough of a character to signify.
I blew my nose heartily and in consternation.
The whole mess rounds itself out with the completion of its half-baked intrigue – and calling it half is being generous. When the Bad Guy is taken into the custody of the head of the family, the Right Honorable Lord instructs his underlings to “get him the hell away from the house…or finish him off for that matter. The footmen can dump him alongside the other offal in the Thames” (318). This is a pretty shocking morality to be operating under, particularly from one of the ‘good’ characters in the book, one softened by marriage at that. (It makes you wonder what he would have done if he were unmarried – flay the culprit alive?)
Aside from the clear and casual brutality of the situation, we can’t forget that the law in 1815 would have been extremely in favor of titled gentlemen, and rich ones at that. There’s no way that the plotter (who was also mentally ill) would have survived that hangman’s noose, and the Boscastle family would have only had to deal with the sweetest commiseration of Society. The sort of treatment more in line with a frontier town is nasty and unnecessary in those circumstances.
So I huffed and breathed through my mouth.
I’ve done some reflection, having decided that God, while perhaps among the living, needs a crutch and an IV drip; that this book was for-sure written by a dude; and that the poor slop who was meant to edit it was tied to a chair and gagged, in one of those disused but smoky abandoned warehouses you see in film noir, surrounded by guys with uzis, lit by a single droplight from the ceiling. I hope wherever he/she is now is free of gangsters, bad literature, and artfully draped children archers.