Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When Romance Gets Too Real

Recently Meg got a negative review from the SmartBitches (Sarah, specifically). It was a strange review - Sarah gave Long Time Gone a DNF - Did Not Finish. Now, DNF usually indicates something very, very wrong with a book - something hugely offensive or shockingly stupid. In this case, though, the problem was tuna fish. The hero caught a whiff of tuna fish when he kissed the heroine, and Sarah squicked.

[I'm not gonna talk about negative reviews today, but a lot of readers told Sarah how much they love the Konigsberg series. Sarah's now reading Venus in Blue Jeans, based on commenters' urging, and I think Long Time Gone will post a spike in sales simply based on the exposure.]

Sarah couldn't handle tuna breath. (One commenter said she couldn't stand it when a character in a romance book eats something she (the commenter) hates. I wonder how many books she has to put down?) But in real life, everybody's breath smells like something. In real life, people have morning breath, while romance characters wake up, roll over, and make sweet sweet lurve. In real life, people have bed head, but romance heroines wake up adorably mussed and heroes are sexy and tousled. In real life, peoples' deodorants sometimes stop working before they do, but romance heroes smell manly and heroines smell floral, or citrusy, or herbal, no matter what they've just been doing. In real life, guys decide to settle down when they get tired of holding in their farts, but romance heroes never let one rip, not even after they get married. (More on farts in a second. Seriously.)

So the question today is - how real is too real for you?

I guess we all have our squick triggers.© For some it's food, for others it's body parts or processes.

I read erotica and erotic romance, including, occasionally, BDSM.
The genre gets a little too physically real for me sometimes. Confession: I can't stand butts -- well, butts are okay, I just don't like buttholes. I don't like butt secks and I don't like reading anything about peoples' posterior orifices. A lot of BDSM novels get very clinical. Seeing the word "anus" doesn't ruin a book for me, but I'll just glide over the rest of the paragraph and catch up with the post-butt action.

I used to have a friend who couldn't stand watching, hearing about or reading about people vomiting (yeah, having small children sucked for her). Sarah mentioned a romance novel where the heroine puked, and a bit later the hero kissed her, and there was no change of scene or anything to indicate that the heroine brushed her teeth first. This is an instance where the romance novel is ickier, instead of prettier, than real life. I don't think puking girls get kissed before they brush their teeth -- at least not after college.

Okay, I said we'd get back to farts. I'm going to assume that no romance hero has ever farted. But there's at least one heroine who has.

Princess Daisy, published in 1980, was a huge bestseller and earned Judith Krantz a five million dollar advance. [Discussion topic for later: what happened to the big glitzy cheeseball contemporaries like Scruples, Princess Daisy, Lace, etc.?] Near the end of the story, Princess Daisy, a Brit, and the American hero whose name I don't remember meet at an English country house party. She surprises him in his room late at night and they make sweet sweet lurve. As they're cuddling and afterglowing, she lets out three tiny little pops. It's been almost thirty years, but I'll never forget the scene. I was like, "she farted?" Daisy is mortified, of course, and tries to flee. But the laid back hero just laughs it off and makes a joke about the "Queen's salute."

Daisy's the only farting romance heroine I know of -- if you're aware of any others, please share. The scene is so memorable that the eminent literary critic Clive James wrote an essay about it. (It's here and it's awesome. Don't read it if you hate mean reviews.)

I can't think, offhand, of any other romances I've read where I went "Whoa. That's a little too real life for me." What about you? Bad breath, digestive difficulties, aromatic armpits - what's too real for you?


Debra St. John said...

Ah, the "reality" of romance. It's the morning breath one that does it for me. Now, don't get me wrong, my heros and heroines wake up and do it in the morning (looking tousled and sexy of course), but in the back of my mind, I'm always thinking. ICK! This would never happen in real life.

But I think that's what romance is all about. Taking the reality out of things. It's an escape from the real world...with that happily ever after guaranteed.

PG Forte said...

I'm the least squeamish person I know, and a big fan of verisimilitude in fiction. So reality in Romance has never been an issue for me. In fact, I'm more likely to be turned off by a lack of reality in stories than the reverse.

Erin Nicholas said...

Yeah, morning breath is one I have to just ignore as a reader. And sweat. Well, not sweat but B.O. If the hero's just come in from re-roofing the heroine's house in the blistering sun and she takes one look at him and they go at in the front hall I'm thinking "he's gotta be smelling B-A-D". I'd be pointing him to the shower-- now the heroine could certainly join him there...

Kinsey Holley said...

BO was always the one thing I couldn't overlook, no matter how much I liked a guy. The Hub owns an auto shop and he doesn't always shower at night - but I have a strict shower before nookie rule.

TMI I guess....

Skylar Kade said...

Great post, Meg! I'm on the fence about reality. Tuna breath? Sure, why not? But oversharing about your GI tract or post-vomit kisses? Pass.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Great post Kinsey! It's so true that in a romance some of those real life things go by the wayside. And mostly I'm okay with that, but sometimes you have to be reaL. I am now going to go write about my heroine burping. I think it must be done.

flchen1 said...

LOL! Kinsey, very entertaining post and topic--I'm with Skylar... I don't mind some reality in my romance, and honestly, sometimes the non-reality aspect pulls me a bit out of the story (I do sometimes think, "Really? Wouldn't they need to brush first?" type of thing). On the other hand, sometimes too much info is a total turn-off, too.

Anonymous said...

"...guys decide to settle down when they get tired of holding in their farts..."

How funny!

I run across little ick factors all the time in romance...making love with someone who's dirty and sweaty, kissing someone who has morning breath. I don't even notice anymore, i just gloss over them. Big ick factors, for example someone being actually physically injured in a BDSM novel, do result in a DNF.