06 March 2010

Baggage

I've been dithering over writing this post, partly because I don't want to prejudice the book I am about to discuss in any way (because I've come to the realization that my issue with the book is 'just me') and partly because...because this post exposes me...and it's very hard not to think like prey.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

Expectation • noun 1 belief that something will happen or be the case. 2 a thing that is expected to happen.

Relatively straightforward, yes? No. Because one may have expectation without fulfilment. And in case you are wondering where this is going, there is method to my madness...well, according to me there is *grin*

Earlier this year I read a book *shock horror* The basic premise of this book is this: the heroine (who as a child was sexually abused, developed a drug addiction and spent almost a year living on the streets) meets the hero. As a result of the abuse the heroine experienced, she avoids touch (and sex). Hero recognizes that there is an issue and tries to move slowly. Then, out of what seems (to me) like the blue, the heroine points out that's she not weak, and sex ensues. We move from just kissing to sex...and there are NO PROBLEMS as a result of the abuse? No flashbacks, no psychological issues that manifest physically (yes, I am referring to sexual dysfunction disorders), NOTHING? All the foreshadowing - the fear in the heroine's eyes when the hero first touched her, the issues that arose in previous relationships - went NOWHERE! WTF?

Honestly...I feel cheated. Cheated on behalf of the heroine...because it's like - find hero, trust hero, HEA (apart from the external conflict, but more on that later). We never get to experience the heroine's journey...her struggle. I also feel cheated on behalf of me. *deep breath* I have a sexual dysfunction disorder. I know that even if I find my other half [insert equivalent term here] (and considering said disorder it will need to be the right one and not just 'someone') it will take time and patience. (And no, that's not my opinion but the opinion of two experts.) It won't suddenly BE GONE! No miracles (unfortunately). I picked up the book, noted the foreshadowing and started feeling...hopeful. Hopeful that for once I would be able to relate to a heroine on a more intimate level. Hopeful that...others would read the book and realize that sexual dysfunction disorders exist and that they can't be fixed with the wave of a wand. I've only ever found one romance novel that discusses a sexual function disorder and only one that discusses anorgasmia - that's it! So yes, I was hopeful....I was expectant! I really thought the author was going to allow us to experience what it is like to have your body react anathema to what it is supposed too. But...no. Instead, the heroine is miraculously cured and we get not one but two stalkers. What is it with stalkers anyway? Why do we have to have extraneous conflict?

To be fair, maybe I read more into the foreshadowing than the author intended...and more than others not sitting where I am noted. And maybe it wasn't the author's intention to follow through with the foreshadowing. After all, it's a romance novel. Who wants to read about a heroine who can't have sex? Apart from me that is.

So, yes, I feel cheated. Not angry...but disappointed. And yes, in case you were wondering, the book was a DNF. And yes, I deliberately haven't mentioned the name of the book, although I am sure most of you know which book I am referring too (or can work it out). Do I want to read another book by this author? Yes. Because I am very sure that my issue with the book is due to who I am...and what baggage I bring with me when I travel into the realm created by the author.

So, have you ever found yourself unable to finish a book not because of the characters, the author's execution of the plot or his/her writing style but because of the baggage you brought with you?

17 comments:

  1. *hug*

    Oh yeah. Not necessarily to the degree you just had with that particular book, but most definitely and on a variety of scales. The most dramatic being having trouble reading m/f at all because of all the societal power BS... And something that potentially had such rare and direct relation to my life? Basically having a magic wand waved over it? Would piss me off.

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  2. Chris - I've got all these things I want to say in reply but they are all racing around my head. So, very simply, but with a wealth of meaning - thank you! I'm not quite sure what you mean by societal power, but I hate that baggage can colour and even taint one's enjoyment of a book. Unfortunately, unlike most baggage, it's hard to lose.

    I have to confess to sort of wanting to hide from the comments. Sad, I know. I'm a scaredy cat *grin* I just worry - it's the vulnerability thing...I'm worried about consequences, but that's a whole other post :)

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  3. All the crap behind being male and female - women as weak, women making less money than men, men being seen as dominant to women, etc etc etc... Does that help?

    I completely understand about the comments - you're very brave. :) You'll notice that I tend to entertain more than reveal on my blog - I'm not as brave as you!

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  4. I wondered if that was what you meant - thank you for explaining. As for me, brave or mad...still not sure which :) I mostly talk about books, but...the whole point of this blog is to learn to express myself...to not hide me any more (if that makes sense :) And I love your blog BTW!

    Off to blanch tomatoes - I'm making tomato relish tomorrow!

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  5. Aw, thanks! Tomato relish - and I am not even sure what that IS. :) I'm about to go to sleep for the night!

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  6. Oh, orannia! Isn't it amazing how some books can affect us (for good or for bad?)

    I've only been really bothered to that point by non-fiction. And, it wasn't because of personal history, but because of where it put my mind and how it left my mood. The book dealt with communities of religious fundamentalists who took multiple wives and the impact (abuse both physical and sexual) it had on said communities' children. I didn't dnf it, but I did put it down for a while. When I picked it back up, I was careful about when I read it. (No reading before bedtime-it was giving me nightmares! And no reading it if I was feeling blue.)

    What strikes me is your comment:
    ...the heroine points out that's she not weak, and sex ensues."

    This really burns my butt. I think there is often a tendency to put physical/emotional/mental issues down to some lack, weakness, or fault on the person's part. And, of course the flip side to that is that the person can just "decide" to "get over" it.

    I've heard it often. I don't talk often about my physical problems online, but I have a couple of auto-immune diseases (Crohn's and arthritis). Especially in the case of the Crohn's disease (a gastrointestinal disease), if I had a dime for every time someone told me it was caused by emotional problems, and maybe if I just "relaxed" it would go away (grrr!), I'd be a rich woman.

    I think it's easier for people to see others maladies as within their control, both in the getting and in the getting over it. That way they can feel "safe", and they feel like it can't happen to them.

    Thank you for your honest and open post. It's hard to make ourselves vulnerable by revealing ourselves in such public way. Yet, this post is important. It's important for you, in affirming that this is your place to address what's important to you and to process your thoughts (and even get some love back by us). And, it's important for other readers of this post. You never know who might read this, how they might feel affected, and how their mind/world might be expanded because of it. Also, you don't know who might drop by and read this because they put the words "sexual function disorder" or anorgasmia into a google search, looking for some support, and be educated or not feel so alone.

    Thank you again, for your honesty and openness, orannia.

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  7. (((orannia)))

    I have said it before, but it bears repeating: you are one brave, brave woman--and more so because you don't see yourself as such.

    As to the meat of the post...

    There is, I think, a huge fantasy fulfillment component to most genre reading--in science fiction, the good guys save the universe; in mystery, the detective always solves the crime and apprehends the criminal; in romance, the gal gets the HEA and the guy...

    Therefore, even in those very rare cases when a writer approaches a thorny issue--the consequences of sexual or psychological abuse, a medical condition of any kind, etc.--that element of fantasy fulfillment tends to gloss over the reality and jump over all the actual, factual obstacles, and land directly at the point of HEA.

    An example I can think off the top of my head is Catherine Anderson's Phantom Waltz: the heroine is a paraplegic with no sensation below her waist, yet we have the hero giving her orgasms by touching the one inch on one of her thighs where she has feeling. Uh... really? I mean, seriously, really?

    Mind, I enjoyed the book and all, but years later I can still remember feeling absolutely flabbergasted that the reader is supposed to make that leap: find the right guy and suddenly your clitoris has moved to your leg. (Yes, it's a crude analogy but work with me here)

    There are exceptions--occasionally a writer will not erase the past with the magic of the wang, but make the protagonists work around and through the consequences and after effects of whatever the issue was. Eve Dallas and Roarke, even with the fantasy elements, are a good example, but I remember a few others...

    Sadly, "few" is the key word there.

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  8. (((((Orannia)))))

    Actually, I think a romance novel where the character/s can't have sex sounds brilliant, if it's handled right. I'm going to guess the writer skipped the process because she didn't feel there was enough time to develop it in a single book--BUT if that's the case, she shouldn't have given the character that problem to begin with.

    I can totally understand why you would be frustrated and disappointed in a storyline like that.

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  9. Orannia, you are definitely not alone in your response.

    Even when I know that part of the allure of romance fiction is the fantasy of it, I often get frustrated with the 'twu wuv will cure what ails you' approach, especially when it comes to psychological and physical problems.

    I also understand that such themes are dealt with in 'literary' fiction, but, to me, the romance genre provides such a wonderful opportunity to explore these challenging issues in meaningful and, even more importantly, accessible ways. For an author to raise such matters and then gloss over them to make way for the sex scenes and the HEA that s/he thinks readers expect is very disappointing.

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  10. (((Renee))) Thank you. I think you make a good point, that some people fool themselves into thinking that others have control over a disease. And I can understand why...but it doesn't make it any easier. And I know a little about Crohn's...enough to know that it does not have an emotional aetiology. *hugs*

    When I picked it back up, I was careful about when I read it.

    That is SUCH a good idea.

    azteclady - thank you! *hugs* I don't feel very brave, but...one step at a time :) I think you make a very good point about fantasy fulfillment. And to be fair, working through the nitty gritty would not be everyone's cup of tea. I can think of one book that mostly worked through the detail - Lisa Kleypas' Blue-Eyed Devil. An amazing book IMO.

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  11. Thank you heidenkind. And yes, it may be that the author felt like working through the issue would take up more pages than she had. And I can accept that. If you do want to read a book with a heroine with a sexual dysfunction disorder, try Lucy Monroe's Blackmailed Into Marriage. My spare copy is with someone ATM, but she's US-based. I could perhaps see if she would be happy to forward it on to you (and I'll cover the postage :)

    Kris - thank you. It's nice to not be alone :) I do feel this author had a great opportunity, but... *shrug* I guess I'd like a small dose of reality in with my escapism. *looks around* Did I just say that out loud?

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  12. I think we can only read a book colored by our experiences. Personally, I don't think I can enjoy a book without making some connection with the characters; whatever that connection may be. It could be shared experiences, or hoped for experiences, or learning experiences. It would seem that what you expect to find in a book, is just as important as what the author expected to convey.

    Often times reading a book to escape your real life doesn't necessarily mean you are dis-associated from reality.

    There have been plenty of books that I've begun reading and just couldn't get through because it was asking me to suspend my belief beyond recognition. I feel no guilt over it. It is what it is...

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  13. I just wanted to say that I think this is a wonderful post. I admire the way you wrote about this personal subject for you.
    In general I think that everyone reads with certain expectations and that personal experiences always color our opinions of books. Maybe not to the same extent as in your example, but still!
    Thanks for sharing this & big hugs.

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  14. Mariana - very wise words! Thank you! *hugs*

    (((Janna))) Thank you!

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  15. Y'know, as someone who knows you in RL, I totally agree with what pretty much everyone who's commented on your post has said - you're an incredibly strong, incredibly courageous woman - and it's a privilege to walk beside you as you start to discover it :-)

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  16. Very well said Orannia. This is just one example of why your blog is so nice to visit.

    I love all of the above comments - and like Kris said - yes, we read romance to get swept away, but you can't get into the fantasy when the author cheats the characters out of real life situations. Books can impact us in so many way...it is ashame this one took the easy way out.

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  17. starfirenz - thank you kechara. I know my walk wouldn't be as easy without you walking beside me :)

    Mandi - thank you! I try :) I know that a number of people have loved this book, so I do...stipulate that the RL experience of the reader does influence how they view it. For me, this book didn't work, but I am sure for others it will. But...saying all that, I do wish this book hadn't avoided the situation it did but instead faced it. I think of the many people who've read Blue-Eyed Devil (Lisa Kleypas) who knew nothing about narcissim but now have more of an idea...if that makes sense :)

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