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Destiny’s Destination January 18, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Humor, Writing & Writers.

Since we’re on the subject of books . . .

When we moved into this villa, the furnishings included more than a few pulpy paperbacks, with terrible titles  and thin plots.  I ignored my initial (and immediate)  inclination to donate them all to Goodwill, because  periodically wading through badly written books reinforces my desire to write something actually worth reading. 

So, how bad are these books?  Harlequin Romance bad. 

We meet the heroine (in each) on page one and she is always physical perfection personified ~ gorgeous body, lustrous hair, and dressed to the nines.  

Despite Destiny’s alluring looks and demure demeanor, she has, thus far, failed at love ~ but that is about to change . . . 

As we turn the page, we meet the hero of the story ~ always an Adonis who takes our heroine’s breath away to the point that she can do nothing but think, obsessively and compulsively, about this man – nay, this god – who is “her destiny.”

For the next one hundred and seventy-five pages, we hear over and over and over and over again how, despite his various and sundry faults, like being domineering to the point that Castro could take a few pointers from him,  Destiny knows, in her trembling heart, that she cannot live without this man in her life. 

They argue, fuss and fight with each other, due to a series of painfully contrived misunderstandings, but always end up back in each other’s arms where the passion ignited between them at first glance overwhelms them to the point that they do not have sufficient strength and will power to resist falling into bed, yet again, to exchange tender words and magical embraces. 

Readers are regaled with countless quarrels, and sophomoric spats, as  Destiny and her Adonis spend each and every out-of-bed conversation arguing with each other like tomcats, while tossing witty barbs and snipes back and forth like rubber daggers.

But, and this is key, no matter how much they cause the other to worry, wonder, and wander, and no matter how embarrassing their actions toward each other, they are destined to end each chapter (or so) back in each other’s arms, with smoldering (or sizzling) looks and flaming  touches.  Ouch!

The settings are different, but generally opulent:  a thousand acre ranch in Australia; a penthouse apartment in London or New York; a five hundred year old estate in Tuscany; a castle in Scotland. 

The heroines are often rich, as are their knights in shining armor.  There is no reason for Destiny to worry about work, or buying groceries, or fixing meals ~ those mundane tasks are left to servants hovering in the background, their characters barely fleshed out and often left unnamed. 

As a result, Destiny has all the more time to go sit in the garden, crying over the latest lovers’ spat and realizing (for the 99th time!) that she cannot live without this man.  

Sometimes a third character looms large ~ a gorgeous show stopper determined to get her hooks into Adonis, not for love (the realm of love belongs only to Destiny), but for  some selfish motivation, such as power, privilege, or financial gain. 

(Or just because Adonis is a good lay).  

If a femme fatale makes an appearance in these formulaic books, she is used to add fuel to the flames whenever a misunderstanding heats up between  Destiny and Adonis.

She is a jungle cat on the prowl with sharp claws, a wicked tongue, and matrimony on the mind. 

Often the women have successful careers – not because they need the money, since most are independently wealthy – but because they are interested in using their allegedly superior intelligence to become captains of commerce. 

Despite having climbed the rungs of the corporate ladder, ostensibly based on innate brain power, Destiny often is stupid-to-the-third-power.  

Her inability to pierce through even the slightest of  misunderstandings, before page one hundred and seventy-five, is re-known in the world of Harlequin.  

Destiny’s ability to misread every cue tossed out to readers about the true motivation and intent behind the “inexplicable” and “inexcusable” behavior of Adonis toward Destiny is laughable.  

She has the collective intelligence and street smarts of Homer Simpson and a box of jelly donuts. 

“Mmm . . . donuts.”

When read in rapid succession, the characters in these books meld together into one homogeneous mass, because the stories are not driven by believable characters residing in the real world. 

Instead, the stories focus on a single unifying message which does not vary from book to book:  women (at least young, good looking, rich ones) have a soul-mate out there, somewhere, riding around on the range, who is gorgeous, wealthy, sophisticated, and, best of all,  phenomenal in bed ~ a tender lover; a ferocious lover; a well-endowed lover (complete with six-pack abs and sinewy muscles).   

“Mmm . . . muscles.”

Women reading these fairy tales are told that their purpose in life is to fall in love-at-first-glance with  their knight in shining armor, scrape off the residual  rust from previous ill-fated relationships, clear up the clouds of confusion and misunderstandings designed to test their true love, and finally, upon reaching Destiny’s Destination, on page one hundred and eighty-four, to cleave to Adonis for eternity.  

If you’ve never read a Harlequin Romance, stop by your favorite used book store and grab one – it makes no difference which one – and use it as a reminder that your destination, your destiny, is not nearly as stereotypical as Harlequin Romance would have you believe.

Related posts: Andrew Zimmern’s Picks Don’t Appeal * The Clean (Book)Plate Club * Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland * A Writer’s Life For MeAusten & Dickens Had It Easy * Eavesdropping on the Rooftop Literati * The Power Of Awesome


1. Carol Ann Hoel - January 18, 2011

I’ve never read a Harlequin Romance. Now I am sure I never will. Ha! Maybe they are true-to-life in some circles, but I don’t like tragedy. Blessings to you, Nancy…

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

I loved them as a teenager . . . and believed that love would be as depicted on those pages.

In most cases, love is just a bit more subtle.

As long as we read trite romances with a grain of salt when we have some time to “kill,” they are easy reads that ALWAYS have a happy-ever-after-ending. 🙂

Carol Ann Hoel - January 18, 2011

I’m all for happy endings. I mainly read mystery and suspense fiction. I read non-fiction, too. I’ve never been drawn to the romance genre. I love real-life romance. My grandparents always held hands as they walked on a sidewalk and in the movies. Now there’s romance. They inspired me. I recently purchased a Christian romance by a debut author, so my romance genre reading begins!

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

Mysteries and suspence are wonderful . . . especially if the author shares enough clues that readers can figure out “whodunit” on their own.

Jane Austen is my favorite “romance” author because her books are about life and love ~ rather than just an endless series of misunderstandings and skewed perspective.

It’s wonderful that you are supporting debut authors . . . hope you enjoy the book.

Richard W Scott - January 18, 2011

Ah! That explains why you knew so much about them. Your teenage reading. I was gonna ask. ))

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

I cannot tell a lie . . . I have read more than my fair share of “bad books” over the years, including a few that we inherited with this villa. 😉

2. Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 18, 2011

YUCK! “Bodice rippers” (as I call them) turn me off completely! I’m amazed you got through an entire one! I’m so glad none are on the “List!” Also, did you know that in addition to there being “African-American bodice rippers, there is also something out there that I call “fatty fiction.” It is aimed at the overweight and obese women and is about a “zaftig” heroine with soft, cushiony flesh and folds, and breasts that the same Adonis hero can get lost in.

The genre seems to cater to the least intelligent reader, but I have some extremely intelligent friends who are “closet” romance fiction readers. To each his/her own. Different “Different strokes for different folks,” or perhaps, “Different books for different Kooks!” 😀

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

I enjoy Romance stories . . . by Jane Austen and the like. But these formulaic recipes for romance seem so contrived, and the characters so cardboard and one-dimensional, that they don’t sustain my interest.

I have never heard of “fatty fiction,” but it doesn’t sound like something I want to add to my reading list. 😉

Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 18, 2011

I am a devoted Jane Austen fan too! I was referring to the “pulp fiction” of the sort you were describing. The ones with Fabio on the cover.

The only bodice rippers I have ever enjoyed are the time-travel series by Diana Gabaldon. For some reason or other she felt obligated to include some of that style, but as historical fiction it is excellent and extremely well-researched.

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

Ah, yes, Fabio, Fabio . . . where fore art thou, Fabio? 😉

Ooh, time travel + historical fiction + romance? That sounds terrific. I’ll have to take a peek at Gabaldon’s work.

3. Cindy - January 18, 2011

I just can’t wade through those, there’s still too much else I want to read …

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

Agreed! So many books, so little time . . .

4. kateshrewsday - January 18, 2011

In Britain we call them Mills and Boon. We used to have an underground library of them at our convent. It think it was organised by the same racket that set up impromptu ear piercing in the cloakrooms.

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

You crack me up! And, ouch, on the ear piercing.

Keshav Ram Narla - January 18, 2011

Oh thank god you think the same way about reality TV. They are sucking the life blood of everyone.

Talking about TV, I wonder where that leaves the writers. Declined reading statistics?

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

Not only that, but writers aren’t being hired to write compelling dramas and sitcoms at the same level.

It’s cheaper to just point the camera and shoot whatever the folks on Reality TV want to say and do. 🙂

Keshav Ram Narla - January 18, 2011

I always avoided them like they were the plague. But girls love these.

It makes me think Nancy. If these novels are out there, someone must be reading them and probably enjoying them too.

As much as I would like to gag on them, teenage girls would love to be transported into this fairy tale – money, handsome mate, awesome lover, bitchy vamps whom she trumps.

I know for a fact that Mills & Boon used to be available at all book stores and city libraries. But I could never get the courage to read through the first chapter.

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

Excellent points, Keshav.

People are reading these books, which means publishers and authors are making money by circulating them.

When we stop reading them, better options will be offered to us.

And the same goes for Reality TV. When we stop watching . . . the shows that air will improve.

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

Keshav ~ Sorry, I screwed up the thread. 😦

Your last comment and my response are above.

5. Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 18, 2011

Keshav – I’m with you, too! I cannot stand reality TV. Nancy – you are so right concerning TV writers. They have been forsaken for the sake of the cheaper to produce “reality” shows which are let’s face it, the biggest fantasies I have ever witnessed (I admit to seeing only about 10 minutes of one before I shut it off). Give me the “Frasier” reruns. It is probably the funniest sitcom ever, and fabulously well-written. That, and remember the old Dick Van Dyke show? Such shows are simply not made any more. Sad. I know people are watching the junk, but many are watching only because that’s practically all that is offered, and they can’t imagine turning off the TV! Now, that’s sad.

nrhatch - January 18, 2011

I cannot watch Reality TV ~ I’d rather contemplate my bellybutton. 😉

Frasier was terrific.

I also loved Seinfeld, Friends, and All in the Family . . .
“Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again . . .”

6. M. Howalt - January 19, 2011

Never have read one. And … Well, I think I’ll let your splendid description serve to fill me in on them instead of actually reading one. 🙂

nrhatch - January 19, 2011

Smart choice. 🙂

Our time here is limited . . . it pays to spend it wisely.

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