It’s Veteran’s Day! Or as they like to say in Canada, Remembrance Day! In fact, people observe Remembrance Day in Canada by wearing symbolic poppy pins. Coming from a country where people mostly consider Veteran’s Day a day to sleep in and catch up on your DVRed episodes of American Idol, the ubiquitousness of the poppy pins is rather touching. (And tasteful in comparison to the jingoistic overtones when the US honors people in the military.)
In honor of these international observations of our friends in the armed services, I’ve decided to showcase a book I recently read: Her Last Line of Defense by Marie Donovan. This Harlequin novel, part of the “Uniformly HOT!” series, stars SFC Luc Boudreaux, a Green Beret from cajun Louisiana, and Claire Cook, a congressman’s daughter and real southern debutante. Claire wants to do humanitarian work in a South American banana republic, and SFC Boudreaux is assigned to train her in jungle survival. But of course, he also ends up training her in LOVE…
Now before you barf, I’m right there with you.
Never in a million years did I think I’d be reading a romance novel. A series of events led me down this insidious path. First, Harlequin is the largest Canadian-owned publishing company, so the company is often the subject of discussion at school. Similarly, we have been encouraged in our editing class to read and pay attention to anything and everything that uses words, in order to be a better editor (and, I would say, a better writer): Russian novels, style guides, graphic novels, cereal boxes, tax forms, romance novels. Finally, a friend passed this book on to me in jest. In a serious commitment to irony I’ve now also decided to write my big paper this term on Harlequin, so I guess you could consider this book research.
Romance novels seem to function as porn for women. While the scenarios may be different from book to book, and while the official party line of the romance community seems to be that the story comes first, consumers expect sex sequences. Given the relatively thin character and plot development, the sex sequences are extremely descriptive and in the context of the story, feel rather shoehorned in. The scenarios seem to play on what are seen as common female fantasies (in this case, a man in uniform, subversion of traditional power structure when they go “into the wild,” winning over the rugged bachelor for marriage, etc.), just like porn movies showcase male fantasies of women in uniform (say, nurses), lesbians, etc.
The cookie-cutter fantasies even extend to the cover. Boudreaux (whose name is spelled “Boudreau” on the back), appears as a nondescript oiled-up muscleman. Many covers of this genre don’t even show faces, just chests or body parts. Doesn’t that sound like objectification? Kinda like porn? Since Harlequin pumps so many of these things out, nobody seemed to notice that the guy on this cover seems to have light brown hair, whereas the character in the book has black hair.
Well, instead of writing my 20 page (gulp) paper about Harlequin here, I’ll close with a few quotes that made me chuckle.
• He stood next to her and stared across the parking lot, shoving his hands into the back pocket of his jeans, tightning the thin fabric across his zipper. Not that she noticed things like that.
• He was as hungry as if he’d come out of a six-week training exercise and she was a lavish buffet.
• “I specifically warned you she was too pretty and you were too horny to take her out in the woods alone, but do you listen to me? No, you don’t.”
“It wasn’t like that,” he growled.
“It wasn’t? Olie drummed his fingers. “I get it now—it was her idea, right? maybe she’s one of those party girls who wanted to get laid by a real American fighting man before leaving the country. I can understand that—you were horny, she was slutty—”
Luc was on his feet grabbing Olie by the lapels and giving him a good shake. “Don’t you ever talk about Claire like that!”
Olie stared cooly at him. “So that’s how it is.”
If you’ve never read a romance novel, I recommend giving it a try. It will give you plenty of food for thought, and we’ll have something fun to discuss next time I see you!