If you had asked me if I’d ever willingly read a literary analysis of any specific genre of literature, I would have yelled a very loud, “NO!” I hate that crap. Really, I get these terrible flashbacks to all that required reading of excruciatingly dull authors in school. If the next question was would I actually enjoying the experience, I would have laughed my ass off ! Well, I did laugh my ass off (unfortunately not literally) with Beyond Heaving Bosoms, so I guess the joke’s on me.
Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan are known in the romance community as The Smart Bitches and run one of the most popular romance book blogs on the internet. This funny and insightful analysis of one of the most popular genres in fiction is such a good read that I can unequivocally recommend it even for those who would normally loathe such books. It’s obvious the writers love the genre and mostly they poke hilarious fun at the many shortcomings of the generic heroes and heroines – and plots. The chapter on Choose Your Own Man Titty is a howl. The paranormal one had me in complete fits – though it did avoid the mandatory group sex. (I kept think of Bianca d’Arc’s Lords of the Were and so many more.) They didn’t do futuristic, which is kind of a shame. Sex in space can get pretty kinky.
The brief history that opens the book delineates the main differences between Old Skool romance, as personified by authors Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rodgers, the two authors singled-handedly responsible for my denigrating the genre for years, and New Skool romances. (And for those of you who went running for dictionary to look up ‘Chthonic deity’ like I did, it’s gods/goddesses of the earth often associated with fertility – or sex. And people think romance is an intellectual wasteland!) Limiting the discussion to ‘modern’ authors makes the content more germane to current readers. The flowchart is priceless. I agreed with their selection of “Alpholes”, alpha assholes – I loathed Clayton Westmoreland. I missed my personal historical favorite in their selection heroes – James Mallory of Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue. Obviously, he’s my pirate hero too, though Raphael Sabitini did pirates better than anyone! The Seahawk and Captain Blood (Both Errol Flynn roles at his swashbuckling best.) are classics and come on, how about Scaramouche? (That was Stewart Granger by the way, and not a pirate role, just a great book and movie.) You could easily argue all three are adventure romance.
The chapters give the book a very readable flow, moving from a brief history to heroine and her archetypes, hero and his archetypes, the clichés that drive us all nuts, how much of an over bearing asshole the alpha hero can be and how much of a ‘too stupid to live’ or self scarifying asshole the heroine can be. The whole ‘virgin’ and ‘virtual virgin’ – no climaxes with men for you till the hero missy! (Self gratification is not counted because a Magic Wang is not involved.) The Hymn to the Hymen is a scream. The anatomy lesson should aid future writers no end, though a map and cross-sectional drawing would have been a handy visual aid for directionally impaired, i.e. all male readers.
Jessica over at Racy Romance Reviews ran a contest for the best ‘big reveal’ of the Magic Wang. All those lines about ‘it’s too big’ and dear God, the ‘plum shaped heads’. Anyone who has read more than three romance novels has at least three ‘big reveals’ where ‘big’ was operative word. You simply cannot be a hero with an average wang. No one with a wang smaller than 8 inches need apply, regardless of bravery or brilliance. Unrealistically short recovery times and tendency to priapsim are requirements. (I suspect this is why were creatures and vampires are so very popular. They are not governed by any medical limitations that plague real men.) And somehow wang size and physical size are related. If only it was that easy to judge! And naturally, the hero ALWAYS has tons of training in delivering multiple orgasms and he just loves doing it too! Even when he’s a complete jerk, he delivers in the sack. Villains have one or more of the following: a little wang, erectile dysfunction, impotence, or they’re just selfish, rotten lovers. The emails between the International Consortium of Heroes (ICH)* about the demands on their manflesh are terrific. (*ICH means International Conference on Harmonization to me, so I was a bit confused when I first saw it during the elaborate April Fool’s trick the Smart Bitches and Dear Author pulled off. I kept wondering if the ICH did Wang Sizing Standards and I’d missed it!)
There is an entire chapter on the Big Misunderstanding – or ‘how can two people be so stupid’. They even created The Big Mis Game, complete with game board. This is followed by a chapter on defending the genre, which is kind of like defending Dirk Pitt or James Bond. It’s FICTION people, get over it. I know they hate the term ‘chick-lit’, but that’s what it is, just as Clive Cussler, Ian Flemming and W. E. B. Griffin write ‘dick-lit’. I don’t see a whole lot of guys reading Nora Roberts or women with the latest W. E. B. Griffin. It is a gender targeted genre, who cares? They are a mite defensive about it, possibly because the stigma that ‘smart women don’t read that stuff’ is still alive and well. I’m just too old to care about that crap anymore. Their spirited argument applied well beyond any specific genre. A story in the hands of a master is a joy to read regardless of genre. Allow us to move on.
Rape in Romance was an interesting take on the two sides of a very difficult argument – historical accuracy vs. modern view of rape. I’ve had this internal argument with myself and remain of two minds about the subject. Not is it or isn’t rape in my mind, but rather how would a female in that time regard the behavior and would she find it as reprehensible as I do. I’ll leave that struggle to each reader, but I’m NOT sure I can agree with the SB’s view. I did find it curious that both authors selected characters guilty of dubious sexual acts as their favorites. Ambivalence is not limited to me.
Finally, the Choose Your Own Man Titty was a terrific way for readers to understand why plots play out as they do. If the heroine followed the logical path, the story would evaporate quickly – though I would have been thrilled with Travis. They wrap the book up fairly quickly after that and the ‘write your own romance‘ option is clever.
Beyond Heaving Bosoms is not a complete or totally inclusive analysis of the genre, but it does what it sets out to do and it does it with panache and style. This is likely the most painless literary analysis you’ll ever read, excluding sore muscles from laughing. If you have even a passing interest in the genre, and a sense of humor, grab yourself a copy and enjoy. Books like this don’t come along too often.
Now, here’s a test for you to see if you are a real romance fan. If you were about to be stuck somewhere with no electric for 4 weeks and had to choose 10 books to keep you company, what books would you choose? Here’s my list.
NOTE: To prevent confusion, I’ve identified each book’s general classification as most are not romance and the titles and authors might not be familiar.
- Plum Island by Nelson DeMille – Mystery thriller; wise-cracking police detective
- Lullaby Town by Robert Crais – mystery with wise-cracking PI
- Three Plums in One by Janet Evanovich (I know it’s cheating, but hey, it is just one book!) – humorous mystery; amateur sleuth
- Hard Rain by Barry Eisler – espionage assassin thriller
- Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter – action thriller; sniper
- The Killing Floor by Lee Child – action thriller; lone wolf
- Aztec by Gary Jennings – historical fiction
- Tai Pan by James Clavell – historical fiction; strong secondary love story
- Here Kitty, Kitty by Shelly Laurenston- urban fantasy romance
- The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – mystery classic
Judging from my results, a pretty fair cross-section of favorite books and authors, I would not be a real romance reader. So if a marginal fan tells you to BUY THIS BOOK, go get it!
My Grade: A- (this is the same grade from Dear Author. To read their review click here.)
Who would enjoy this book: Anyone who is even a casual romance reader and has a sense of humor. By rating is PG-13.
PS – I haven’t decided on a Romancelandia name yet. It’s hard to improve on Tourmaline Groundhog, and I already have a kick-ass alter-ego, Reacher Fan!