Those of you who follow the The Canary Review even a bit might know that I have a weakness. This weakness comes in the form of popcorn fiction of the romantic sort. Gimme chick lit, and paranormal romances, and romantic fluff, and I am set.
However, those of you who’ve been around me a little longer may also know that I am a born again feminazi of the most lovable sort who enjoys constructivist theories on the side and watches adorable Disney movies with one eye trained on the waist-hip ratio of the characters.
So what’s my trick? How do I manage to get through the truly ridiculous without throwing books against the wall?
Easy: I have a very well developed coping mechanism. Let me pull out an example.
I’m going to pick on Feehan’s Dark (Carpathian) series because, well, I haven’t been able to get through a single one of her books without eye-rolling since I was sixteen. But my love-hate relationship with them means I can’t resist the books whenever I spot them.
From what I’ve sampled, this series has all the hallmarks of overblown paranormal romance, from the Good & Noble Vampires™ to the Irresistible Soulmates™ trope used in lieu of relationship-building. Gender roles are crisply defined: The Carpathian Male (read: the vampire guy) is an instinct-driven creature, overwhelmingly possessive and territorial when it comes to “his” woman. Even if our petite, lovely, and compassionate lady is independent and modern, she finds that she much prefers to cuddle with Dominating Male, courtesy of the aforementioned Irresistible Soulmates™ effect, than do her own stuff.
Let’s pick a representative passage from the first chapter of Dark Fire:
“Tempest’s green eyes flashed like jewels, an indication she possessed the famous red-haired temper. Darius frightened her where no one else had ever accomplished such a thing. There was a stark possession in his eyes, a sensual cruelty around his well-cut mouth, an intensity burning in him she had never witnessed before.”
Yes, true love at first sight, right there. I sometimes wonder if some romance novelists don’t take Machiavelli’s “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot have both,” a little too close to heart.
What to do? Stop reading because you can’t take any more of this? Sure, Dark Fire offers an absurdly terrible representation of men and women and romance. But what about the other stuff in the story — the fluff, the romance, the stuff you do want to read?
Here’s what I do. When the going gets hard…I switch the pronouns. What happens when I change our fierce manly-man into a girl, and our lovely lead lady into a guy?
We get something like this:
“She smiled an infuriatingly female taunt that told him she knew he was afraid of her. The smile did nothing to warm the black ice of her eyes. She bent her head slowly toward him.”
Or something like this:
“Somewhere deep inside himself, he knew she had taken away his choices. She would not allow him to leave. It was in merciless slash of her mouth, the implacable resolve on her face and in the soulless emptiness of her black eyes. He could pretend if he wanted to, leave it unspoken between them. Not challenge her. Power clung to her like a second skin. “
Not only does this help me get through the truly nauseating passages, but it’s amusing to boot. Then, when that gets too much (which it usually does within a few paragraphs), I switch back. Rinse, repeat. This also works in non-romance novels or when it’s the heroine that makes you want to cry. Switch, rinse, repeat.
Because really, if you can’t switch pronouns in a piece without going, “Wait what?”, then you’re looking at double standards or characters who were never real in the first place.