Saturday, December 20, 2008

Violence and Romance

I recently finished a romance with the central conflict revolving around a progressively more violent antagonist bent on destroying the heroine's life. It left a foul aftertaste. The romance was nearly overshadowed by the beatings and blood and random killings, and I felt like the few scenes with just the main couple were a reprieve from the otherwise very unromancelike action. Perhaps I wouldn't have thought so much about it if the book were billed as a murder/mystery or a suspense, but it was sold as a romance. The successively worse violence felt like a gimmick to add easy "depth" to the plot. Rather than devise a creative way to delve into the characters' psyches, the author threw in a body, and everyone simply had to react. It felt cheap.

When did death and blood become a common subplot for romances? Has it always been, and I've just been oblivious? I scanned through the romance section at my favorite used book store today and had a hard time finding an action-packed romance that didn't involve a PI, FBI agent, Navy Seal, police officer, or someone on the run from a killer. (Okay, maybe it was a case of finding what you're expecting to, but still!) Is this where the violence in America is coming from--from too many people reading about casual death scenes and five pages later immersed in a steamy sex scene with the people who found the body? Maybe TV's been given a bad wrap. Maybe we should be blaming publishing houses.

It reminded me of a romantic movie or a TV show I saw once (and this would be so much better if I could remember the name of said movie or TV show). There was this very beautiful, high color, sunny and soft erotic scene between two people in the midst of a passionate embrace up against a wall. It started with kissing and the lover's hands roaming over each other's clothed bodies. Then, with the same sensual camera view, the scene switched to somewhere else to pan across a bloody beating in progress. Then back to the couple, some clothing removed, the energy between them more intense, the scene, by itself, more beautiful. Then back to the beating. Then back to the now sex scene. It turned my stomach.

I don't like my sex combined with violence. Not at all. It cheapened the sex scene--took it from something beautiful, and warped it merely by contrasting it with such brutality. One scene was motivated by love; the other by hatred. I believe the author/director/producer were trying to portray the connection and the juxtaposition of the extremes of lust and passion displayed in both scenes. Whatever. I get it. I don't need it shoved in my face. Not in video form, not in book form. Especially not in "romance" form. If I want violence, I'll pick that genre, thank you very much. I'm perfectly okay with violence in my literature. In fact, Basic Trouble and Book 2 have their fair share of violence. They're also not romances.

Needless to say, that author won't be a repeat read.

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