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A Typical Male!

a-typical-maleA Typical Male! by Sally Wentworth
Harlequin, 1997
Price I paid: none

Brett King wanted to possess Tasha…He craved her body and the passion he knew they could share, and he planned a seduction campaign designed to drive her out of her mind—with desire!

Tasha wanted Brett, but she wasn’t interested in sex without commitment. She knew there could be so much more between them, and there was only one way to test Brett’s feelings…How would he respond if he thought Tasha was pregnant with his baby?

I originally started this blog to step out of my literary comfort zone and read some things I probably wouldn’t have wanted to deal with otherwise. All-in-all, I’d say this has been a success. I’ve read about a hundred a fifty books over the past three years that I probably wouldn’t have looked at twice. What this has led to, though, is that I’ve so successfully rebounded my reading comfort zone that now I catch myself reading cheap sci-fi and fantasy and action/adventure with a sort of pre-knowledge of what I’m getting into. I’ve become too genre savvy. It’s not that this is a bad thing! It’s just that sometimes it can get a little boring, taking note of which typical literary sins a book will commit for the godzillionth time.

This particular book is an exception to that. I know very little of the romance genre, and even less of its subgenre, the Harlequin romance. I picked it up mainly because the back matter struck me as particularly offensive. I found it while shelf reading the large print section at the library, took a picture of it, and showed it to the good people of the I Don’t Even Own a Television Fun-Time Party Pit, a group of folks on Facebook I happen to adore. If you’re not already listening to I Don’t Even Own a Television, a podcast about bad books, then you really ought to be. J. and Chris are better at this than I’ll ever hope to be.

Anyway, I showed this off to the Facebook group and one of the members asked me if I’d read it and review it. I figured why the hell not? So here we are.

I decided at some point along the way to reading this book that there might be some interesting stuff here. I’m not familiar with romance novels or their tropes, at least outside of the stereotypical stuff. And furthermore, I figured there might just be something worth noting about the genre that could help science fiction writers, too. More on that later.

So this book. Thiiiis book. Oh, there’s much to say.

One thing that took me by surprise is how the point of view worked. I’m told that this book was unusual in this sense. Most straight romance seems to take place from the woman’s point of view, which makes sense. A Typical Male! defies this and is mostly from the dude’s POV, but not always. If I had to describe the way this book works, I’d say it was third person omniscient but only in the context of the main two characters. We’re only ever in those two heads, but the text jumps back and forth between them constantly. This is a bit frustrating.

Brett is a guy. He’s handsome, he’s successful, and he’s oversexed. He’s a writer of some sort, although he does very little of his job in this book. He was once a journalist. This is very important.

He’s at a party when he meets Tasha. She’s everything he’s ever wanted in a woman: pretty.

There’s actually a little more to it than that, and so the book gets a tiny amount of credit. She’s got some ineffable quality that makes Brett want her even more than he normally would. There’s some kind of vivacity that never really gets described all that well; we’re just supposed to take the author’s word for it (this is a common experience). The book even goes so far as to have Brett describe her as “not exactly beautiful” at one point, although everything else he thinks about her throughout the book turns that on its ear. It quickly becomes his goal to have this woman.

Tasha is a redhead and is very attractive, but she’s also a successful television writer and producer. It’s nice that she has a life outside of men, and, in fact, she’s got a backstory that is depressing in its similarity to the real life problems many women face daily.

The two of them hit it off quickly. Later on, Brett comes off as a pick-up artist more than I’m comfortable with, but at the beginning he’s okay. He avoids double-entendres in his speech even when Tasha lines them up for him, figuring that if he took the bait she’d respect him less. I guess I can get that. Decent job, Brett.

They start dating and that’s where everything starts to get bothersome. It’s clear that Brett just wants to screw the living hell out of this woman and that’s all he wants at first. Later, it gets downright creepy. It becomes less about just wanting a bit of healthy exercise and more about possession.

The snag is that Tasha doesn’t want to have sex right away. She’s got a deal with herself. She has to get to know a man non-biblically before she knows him biblically. She tells Brett this, that she likes him and definitely wants to go to bonetown with him at some point, but she can’t do it now.

Brett responds in a way that makes him so totally unlikable that I can’t stand it. He cajoles. He begs. He rages. He gets petulant. He walks out a few times, only to come back. Tasha, to her credit, keeps him at bay. He sometimes has little glimmers of potential decency, but they don’t tend to last.

Things get really bad when they start making out. Brett gets started up faster than this Chromebook I’m typing on. He’ll push her boundaries until she stops him, at which point he’ll get mad. He even pulls that extra-loathsome PUA thing of showing her his tumescent manhood and saying things like “Look at what you did! Can’t you see I’m suffering?”

It was when he pulled that for the first time that I lost all hope of thinking he was a man who deserved any kind of respect. Interestingly, respect seems to be something that’s very important to him. He not only wants Tasha for her moist womanhood but also so that other men around will see them together and get really jealous. He’s that kind of guy.

Tasha also has a job she’s very invested in. She’s working on a television program about women who have been taken advantage of by men in power. This is an issue that is very important to her and led to some of her life choices. It seems that when she was in college, only eighteen, an instructor put the moves on her. She rebuffed the advances, after which the instructor attempted to take what she wouldn’t give. This is the part of the book that was so heartbreakingly true-to-life. Tasha managed to narrowly avoid being raped, but when she went to report the incident everyone took the instructor’s side. She ended up having to leave college altogether. There was a minor bit of scandal, but in the end, the instructor not only got away with it, he was practically rewarded.

Ouch.

She’s turned this incident into a crusade for all women who have been thus treated, which is admirable. What’s a lot less admirable is when she tells Brett about this and his response is, as you’d probably expect, “But not all men.”

Oh, I forgot to mention the stupidest part of this whole book, where most of the drama comes in. Brett used to be a journalist. Tasha hates journalists. She’s got this huge mostly-irrational hatred of journalists that causes Brett, who can only think with his ding dong, to lie about that part of his life out of fear that she will never submit to his advances. Ugh.

So they decide to go visit Brett’s second home in Cornwall, on the beach. She all but promises that once they get there it will be squishy city all over the place. Brett can hardly contain his excitement. But wait, there’s more drama! On the way down to Cornwall (I may have forgotten to mention that this book takes place almost entirely in London) Tasha gets a telephone call. In 1997! I bet her phone is as big as the car! Hahahahaa

The phone call is from her friend Sarah, who just broke up with her boyfriend and is inconsolable. She tells Brett that they have to turn around. He refuses. She calls him selfish. He gets mad, stops the car, pulls her stuff out, and just flings it all over the place. She leaves him again. I was kind of hoping that this would be the end of the relationship part of the story and maybe something else would happen, but no, of course not. Brett heads down to Cornwall alone, feeling sorry for himself, has a few moments of awareness, and starts to grow a bit as a person until Tasha shows up again and they bone bone bone bone bone

Seriously like two chapters, nothing but Screwberry, RFD.

During a break in the non-stop erotic cabaret, Brett decides that he wants to help out his girlfriend. First, he convinces her that the television project about powerful sex offenders is a bad idea. His logic is actually a bit sound: If she releases that program, she will end up being sued by all the people she calls out for their crimes. It’ll be her college experience all over again, except this time it’ll be at the hands of the rich and powerful.

This makes sense, but Tasha’s reaction to it is on the offensive side. Instead of deciding that she needs to press on, or perhaps find a new way to approach the idea, or moving on to something else she considers important, she decides instead that she is a worthless person who has nothing to give to anything because she has terrible ideas. I’m serious, her confidence―which has been her main defining feature apart from red hair, pretty face, long legs, and sexuality―is now shot.

She goes back to London to work. Brett has a brilliant idea and says that he’s going to take a week to do “research.” What he does is take Tasha’s notes and send them to some newspaper somewhere under a fake byline. The upshot of all this is that Tasha gets hold of that newspaper, sees that her research has been stolen, knows that it was Brett, learns that he is a journalist (she hates journalists, remember), and gets furious at him. She decides to get her revenge in a way that completely negates any goodwill I had toward this character, which at least puts her on the same level as her bonezi buddy.

She decides to tell Brett that she’s pregnant. Her reasoning is this: Brett is a scumbag who will no doubt freak the hell out and bolt when he finds out that he’s knocked her up. She’s convinced herself that Brett was only interested in her to gain access to the notes for her television program so that he could steal them and publish them himself. He is, after all, a journalist and all journalists are content thieves.

There are a lot of jokes here that I want to make, but I’m just going to let them low-hang there.

She tells him that he’s pregnant. Indeed, he does have a bit of a freakout, which pleases Tasha. He leaves her apartment for a few minutes, has a revelation, and then comes back to tell her that even if he’s not totally ready to be a dad, he’ll support her in whatever decision she makes and will stick around and be the best damn father he can be. This results in Tasha having her own freakout since this wasn’t the result she expected. They have more arguments. She confesses that she was lying. He tells her that he did, in fact, use her content, but he did it with good intentions, because now that the paper has printed that stuff there’s been an investigation and a lot of the people she was going to call out for being sex criminals are actually being punished for it while their victims are being put into protective services.

Instead of breaking up or whatever, they screw.

It’s this weird scene where Brett figures that he’ll do it completely unemotionally? Whereas all the action up to this point was really steamy, this time it’s cold and bitter, but they both enjoy it anyway and it’s all creepy.

They part ways until the book ends with Tasha finding Brett again and telling him that she is, in fact, pregnant, for real this time. So they make plans to get married and the book ends.

Woo. That went on for a while. You know what’s funny? This book wasn’t all that bad. Sure, the characters were terrible people who did the Horizontal Funky Chicken a lot because that is literally the only thing they want from each other. Brett was just an abominable human being and then Tasha reacts to it by coming down to his level and being awful too. That’s just all there is to it.

But still, it was readable. Fun fact: this is the first time I’ve ever read a large print book. I never really felt the need to until now, when it was the only format in which I could find the book, but I have to say that I found it an enjoyable experience. My eyes aren’t that bad―I wear glasses but they’re for nearsightedness―but I guess I sometimes come down with a bit of eyestrain and that’s why I get so tired when I read. That and I have terrible sleep scheduling abilities.

I brought up how science fiction could learn a few things from romantic lit, and here’s what I’ve come up with based on this novel:

All fiction, if done correctly, should have stakes involved. The protagonists need to be fighting for something, and there need to be consequences if they fail. In science fiction, the stakes tend to be huge. Not always, but often enough you get stories where if the hero fails the consequences will be at least planetary in scale. At the very least it’ll be the hero’s ship with it’s 439 crew members, but even then there’s the idea that if this space protozoan isn’t stopped then it’ll take down the entire Galactical Union.

The problem with this is that when the stakes are so large, they might be unrelatable. In most cases we, the readers, will feel that the victory of the protagonists is all but set in stone, simply because very few authors would have the guts to take on a story where the heroes fail and the world around them ends. When that does happen, it’s pretty great, or so I imagine because I can’t think of any specific examples.

But let’s look at romantic fiction. The stakes are much, much lower. The world isn’t going to become consumed by spores if our protagonists don’t experience an orgasm before the end of the book. But here’s a thing: the stakes, being so much lower, are much more relatable.

There’s a sense that maybe these two won’t get together after all. And if they’re decent people, we should be rooting for them. Most people have probably felt the heartbreak of a romantic affair that didn’t work out. Maybe it ended amicably, maybe bitterly, but there’s always going to be a lot of regret and sadness involved. That’s what’s at stake. Happiness, if only for a moment. And that makes a story resonate. Very few of us can really fit into our heads what it would mean if the moon-fungus destroyed the world’s soybean crops, but we can really understand what would happen if two people didn’t live happily ever after. Most of us have been through that.

Science fiction can have those kinds of stakes, too. After all, some of the best Star Trek episodes aren’t the ones where the crew is in danger, it’s when a crew member has to make a choice that could mean the sacrifice of a loved one. The Original Series has “City on the Edge of Forever.” Next Gen had “The Offspring.” I could probably name a great episode from every series of the show and that’d be the thing they’d have in common. Relatively low stakes, real emotional resonance.

There are some other things that sci-fi and fantasy could pick up from romance, things like writing real human interactions, but I don’t have any experience reading those kinds of things because the one romance I’ve read was this one.

Zing.

Seriously, this book didn’t have conversations. It had a narrator tell us that the protagonists were having good conversations. No joke.

I think this was a good experience for me, though. I can’t say that I had a bad time reading this book, and part of that was not having any idea what the stock conventions were. Plus it zipped by pretty quickly. The writing wasn’t great but it had a level of competence I wasn’t expecting.

I’m pretty sure that the author of this book was a man behind the female pseudonym, but there’s probably no way for me to test that.

Oh god, this has been a long review. Thanks for sticking around, if you did. I hope we both learned a little something.

Hehehe, boners.


3 Comments

  1. JJ says:

    I read a huge amount of detective fiction, and someone made the point recently that it and romance are the two genres where you know what’s going to happen before you even begin: the crime will be solved and the criminal brought to justice, or the couple will get together and live happily-enough ever after. Sounds as if this could have really done with bucking that trend, but then is too enmeshed in the expectations of the genre (and, frankly, too lazily written) to be able to challenge them…aaah, the perils of genre fiction, eh?!

    Thanks for a very entertaining write-up, I hope this is a sign of much more romance to come…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sydlogsdon says:

    Interesting, especially your first paragraph in which you expand on your blog’s sub-title. For the first time, I think I understand why you read this crap. Regarding ATM itself, I can only say I’m glad you read it instead of me, but your comments on its lessons for SF are spot on.

    Like

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