Let’s (not) talk about sex

A friend at work suggested a book to me a few months ago by an author I’d heard of but never read. This person reads a lot of the same mystery authors that I enjoy so when I saw this book on the shelf in the library, I picked it up without reading the jacket. Prologue was good, but when I moved onto Chapter One, I started getting the feeling that there was more to this book than a whodunit. I read the jacket, then flipped through the pages to confirm what I’d feared. Impossibly beautiful heroine, aggressive alpha male love interest/protector, way too much graphic sex in this novel. So back to the library it went.

I’m sure there are lots of people who find these kinds of books entertaining or romantic or whatever. Personally, they just reinforce my frustration with the entertainment industry at the lack of understanding that sex does not equal romance.

I’m not opposed to a dose of romance with my mysteries. Heck, my own heroine has a love life. I just don’t like books where the end game is going to bed together and the male lead treats the heroine in a rapey/stalkerish manner, hitting every mark on the checklist for potential abusers, all in the name of love. It used to be romantic comedies were romantic. Now, it’s pretty darn hard to find anything like that on bookshelves or on the big or small screen. Now romance is 50 Shades and I just don’t get it.

There are exceptions, of course. Luke Danes from TV’s “Gilmore Girls” can make me swoon not because he’s rich or handsome or tough, but because he’s just a regular guy who’s committed to his gal. Committed to the point where he fixes things around Lorelai’s house, rushes her to the hospital when her dad is sick, offers a shoulder to cry on and throws a huge going away party for her daughter, all while they are not even dating. So what if he wears flannel all the time and is perpetually grumpy? He’s a solid, caring guy.

And let’s look at the love triangle in “The Hunger Games.” Not the movies, which kind of messed up the casting of Gale and Peeta. Gale in the books is a hot head who sometimes pressures Katniss about his feelings for her. He’s been her best friend, which is great, but sometimes he’s kind of a jerk. (Liam Hemsworth made him 100 times more likable in the movies, IMO.) Peeta, on the other hand, is always putting Katniss first, even at the cost of his own life. The flashback to him taking a beating as an 11-year-old to give a starving Katniss some bread is hauntingly beautiful in the books. When she is completely cast out and depressed at the end of Book 3, he joins her in District 12 to plant flowers in her sister’s memory. Sorry Josh Hutcherson, you weren’t a great choice in this role, but in the books, Peeta is the guy who’d I’d want to have my back.

Now I know my opinion isn’t universal here, hence the Team Gale versus Team Peeta thing, but I stand by my thoughts that Peeta is the better guy. Are either Luke or Peeta perfect? Of course not. That would be supremely boring if they were perfect love interests, but their commitment and kindness make them good characters for a little romance.

And when I say romance, I mean just that. Romance is not the same as sex. Nothing ruins a romantic movie or book for me more than an over-the-top sex scene. I get that sometimes sex is part of the story. That’s even true in the Bible – hello, David and Bathsheba. But I don’t want to know the blow-by-blow details. Just a fade to black is fine with me. It doesn’t add anything to the story; I feel like a voyeur watching someone through a hole in the wall. Seriously, I don’t get it.

Can any discussion of romance be complete without a “Pride and Prejudice” reference?

Works like “Pride and Prejudice” have stood the test of time because the romantic writing is just that good. But putting Jane Austen aside, one of the best love scenes I’ve ever seen came in a movie where I wouldn’t have expected it, “The Last Samurai.” I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan and the move is kind of clichéd, but the scene were Taka dresses Nathan Algren before battle is just amazingly intimate without anything really happening. I was so stunned by the level of feeling between the two characters. No words are spoken. They share nothing more than just a light kiss. It definitely helped that the score during this scene was so beautiful, but really the eyes tell the whole story. It was so powerful that after the guys in my house went to bed, I re-watched the scene just to be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

So there’s my rant for the day. Am I crazy to think this? I must be based on the romance novels I see on the shelves, and the movies that continue to get made. But I’d just rather see something that makes me swoon instead of feeling like I need a shower.

 

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