367 Following


You kids get off my lawn. 

Promoted to Wife? - Paula Roe So, some of you who read this may be aware of my romance reading project over the last year or however long. Honest Abe, I did not undertake this project just to rip some crap books to shreds, even though that may have happened more than once, and often drunkenly. Snarky bitch comments aside, which I've made and will make in the future, the heart of this project has been (for me, and I do not speak for anyone else, etc) to try to understand a huge huge chunk of the publishing world, one that is aimed solidly in my demographic direction, but mostly just bounces right off. Ain't I a woman?

I read genre fiction, and a lot of it, but yes, it tends to the beardo scifi end of things, with a bit of the end of the world and zombies. I've been known to fall into passionate defenses of my shitty scifi love-books, but I know that shitty (or even well-done) scifi is not for everyone. (Or zombies, or Armageddon, etc.) As someone trained up as a reader on science fiction, I walked into this romance reading deal with some preconceptions about romance that are wrong, or, er, maybe not wrong, but definitely aren't the right parameters by which to be critiquing this kind of book.

Promoted to Wife? is some hardcore trash-romance yegads. It's #2076 in the Silhouette Desire imprint, which from the ecstatically calming missive from the publishers in the opening pages, was bought by Harlequin in the near past. But still there will be the same quality narratives, friends! Muahahaha. I don't see a month on the title page, but I've seen them on other Harlequin imprints, these books coming out rat-a-tat like magazine articles or the same-stamped bullets in a love-gun. Blammo! Character, impediment, resolution, love, blammo!

Anyway, I kid. This book is a disaster using the scifi nerd metrics I have internalized. I'm not sure how to express this, but every genre has its metrics by which it, um, measures quality. Scifi nerds pass a blind eye - often, not always - on poor character development in order to get to the hardcore ideas in the narratives. So Foundation was a disaster in terms of character sketches? So what? Phychohistory omnomnom. So Heinlein is a disaster of sexist caricatures from hell? Well, I will not be omnomnoming Heinlein, but I get, as a fellow nerd, why some might and do.

So I've been reading romances looking for something that breaks romance genre conventions, zig-zags with some confounding narrative structure, the big idea, something that conforms to my readerly ideals which are external to the genre. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've been going about this all wrong, but now that I've read the bottom of the barrel, I get why. It's wrong-ish from me to expect something this formula to stop being formula, because that is the name of the game, baby. The foregone conclusion allows the reader to work out incredibly ambiguous and downright fucked up situations, situations which are common enough to be upsetting.

What's her face works as a secretary for some tycoonish sort. She's smokin' hot, but has always hit her light under a barrel of charcoal suits and a pair of glasses. Her boss gets drunk over some thing that I can't remember, and she comes into the office in track-pants to hie him hither. Drunkenly, the boss can see through the track pants to the hot bod within, and they kiss. The book starts in media res (I can't spell that right now, and I'm not looking it up) after she has called in sick for a week and is trying to sort out what to do with the fluttering, palpitating sexual tension that she feels.

The plot truncates so much character development to the point that often I had to skip back and read more closely in hopes of finding a reason for the characters' behavior. I missed the talk about condoms completely, as I've been informed by other readers, but I'm not going looking now. What's her name and tycoon come from fantastically damaged upbringings - both had mothers who were whores of some stripe or another. The tycoon's mom left because of some shit I can't remember, and the tycoon dad explains that she wasn't just bought off, but she was just a bad mom. Weirdly, this makes the tycoon's abandonment by his mother okay: she was a bad mom, but she loved him enough to know that she'd fuck him up, or something.

The secretary's mother was some kind of crack whore or something, and she ended up in social services, but she clawed herself up to middle class nicety, despite a deadbeat late husband and a bunch of cardboard Noir characters who seek to advance the plot. These back stories are very upsetting, and dealt with in such a light manner that i was pretty freaked out. Then there's the matter of the tycoon turning what's her face into a whore. He buys off her debt to a loan shark; he enters into an agreement with her where she keeps taking apaycheck, and she sleeps with him. (Oh, and she still does her day job! This guy knows how to write a verbal contract.) Without the formula, this set up could go anywhere; with the formula readers can imagine these troubling situations without getting hurt by them. Both the rich and poor have TEH PROBLEMS and they can be solved with a finger-bang in adjoining hotel rooms.

Point being that I get why this would be appealing on some level. There's a touching scene which made me insane where what's her face puts on track-pants (again!) and sings and dances to herself on the hotel balcony. Tycoon guy is watching, unseen, totally entranced by her act of letting go. They then had a conversation that made me die about how he likes "commercial rock" and she likes 80s pop, and she tells him he's "missing something" if he hasn't listened to the most ubiquitous music on the planet, which he hasn't. (This is when I decided he was a Soviet spy, or an alien, which would make this narrative scifilicious for me omnomnom.)

So yeah, maybe it would be sweet to be seen in our pajamas and have someone see the stupid beauty within. Maybe it would be wonderful to be loved for the stupid things we do. As someone in a long love relationship, the stupid reasons to love someone are often the best, because exasperation is the cousin of love, it is the lodger in the mansion of desire. But the mansion of love in Promoted to Wife? is this irritating rambler. There's a vestigial living room that's been replaced by the frustrating family room - with a grotto! The shutters are the plasterboard kind that could never close up to hold out the storm. The dormers come to a point where ice dams ravage the shakes and the ice-melt damages the plasterboard, running down the walls. This book is a band-aid on a deluge, trying to make these hard upbringings coalesce into a fluttering, wheezing, heart-felt conclusion, one that tosses over the reality of work and competence and what have you.

Oh, whoops. I really didn't mean to go on the attack, but I can't help it. Maybe all my house talk is the jargon of someone who is in the home-building trades, albeit peripherally. There is a difference between the pillow talk of imagining your dream home, that perfect addition, and the shitty day-to-day reality of making a thousand decisions to built that home. I come in, professionally, at the very end of the remodeling process, and I've seen something I call "decision fatigue" a thousand times. I fan out a bunch of colors, and the homeowners glaze. Just pick something for me, because I can't make another decision.

This book skips over those last decisions - love makes right, biology trumps heredity, heredity cuts across the classes. The moment you realize you love someone is the moment you marry. It's formula that lets you paste in your stretch-marked belly (my stretch-marked belly) for the hot bod in a pants suit (holy fucking gah!), a belly that doesn't have to work, a belly that is promoted in the most questioning terms to wife, the decisions ended, the fatigue of managing your (my) existence, your (my) childhood, your (my) sexuality, into the the most humdrum ecstasy of domesticity.

That's what kills me about this formula, again and again: love is a choice, sometimes it's even work, mostly it's a thousand decisions that cause fatigue. Love wearies. If I were to look at my husband and have a panic attack like what's her face here, I would call the freaking doctor and have a non-stress test. And I love him, don't get me wrong, but we've already built our house, and are looking at the scuffs and dings of hard use. Scuffs of affection, dings of history, but it's a lived in addition at this point; this scratch was from that one time, do you remember? I get that PtW? is a wish-fulfillment exercise, but it doesn't fulfill my wishes, not just because I'm not a romance reader and don't get the formula, but because this story is insane. Too much has been excised, to much relies on the imagined plot of the reader.

I don't know, I really didn't mean to attack this book, because it feels like kicking puppies. I like puppies. They're great. But I don't really want one in my house, and I don't find comfort in narratives that fulfill wishes in this banal a story. If I'm to escape from my humdrum housewifish life, I want a porthole to a vista of a retreating planet and the broad expanse of space, and ideas, and weirdness and the alien. I don't want to imagine my beauty in track-pants. My beauty has scars, ones that I earned. I would not wish them away for anything.

P.S. I'm not rating this.