21 March 2011

Animal Magnetism (Jill Shalvis)

At Eloisa James' book launch, there were not only cupcakes and champagne, there was swag: a ferociously pink little tote full of bookmarks and such, and free books: the previously mentioned paranormal Captive Heart, which continues to entertain Chris & me as he reads it out loud; and my first contemporary romance, Jill Shalvis' Animal Magnetism (you should click through for the cover, as it is hilarious--sleek buff boy back and adorbs puppy giving eponymous eyes). I kind of saved this one for last since the synopsis wasn't that appealing: lady with a duck and piglets in her car rear-ends parked car of pilot/photographer/ex-Army/Ramblin' Man, passion and lack of suspense about whether he'll leave town ensues. As I expected, it didn't do much for me. (Yeah, the sex scenes were good, but if you only like the sex scenes it's porn, right?) Here are some reasons. They are not all admirable, or even consistent.

1. I am completely over the Love of a Good Woman Makes Peripatetic Dude Settle Down trope. Yes, even though it's one of the cornerstones of romantic fiction (including film). And even though I have enjoyed some books with this essential plot (I contain multitudes blah blah). I fundamentally don't believe love changes people, is the thing. I believe that people change themselves, and that makes them more able to find or keep or deepen relationships--but in this book, Brady's eventual putting down of roots happens despite himself, he's helpless before it, all "what is happening OMG." It's maturity externally imposed rather than blossoming within, as if his attraction to Lilah is literally a magic spell. It's unreal, and hence not satisfying.

2. Hero and heroine spend the whole damn book misinterpreting each other when all they had to do was have an adult conversation. Yes, I'm aware this happens. It's a difficult conversation to have. And yup, the same mutual misunderstanding drives many historicals. But it's easier to take in stories set in previous centuries: gaps in education between men and women and societal taboo often made these discussions unfeasible or even impossible--Anna Karenina, for example. We're supposed to have moved beyond this, though. Be good role models, romance protagonists!!

3. Too many cute animals. I'm aware this may be the most ridiculous thing I have ever written: I've watched that video where the corgi goes nuts when her owner talks like the Beatles half a dozen times. I'm currently watching season 2 of a BBC doc called "Big Cat Diary," which follows leopards and cheetahs and lions AND THEIR BABIES about in Kenya. And I try to get my cat to watch it with me. My "birthday present" to my sister was a link to a friend's photostream of a kitten he & his wife found on the street. I AM A SUCKER FOR TEH CUTE. In Animal Magnetism, though, the animal characters--three-legged cat! rescue puppy named Twinkles who cries at night unless you snuggle with him! duck on a leash!--just felt like manipulation. Like pandering to the stereotyped single cat lady romance reader. Like reading a Cathy collection. Almost.

4. This is the shameful one: I'm really skeptical about dudes who have been in the military. Which pretty much means I hate America, I know, and indeed the few gentlemen I know personally who've been in the Army or Navy are perfectly nice guys...but my first impulse upon finding out a guy I'm interested in was an ex-soldier would be to assume that we don't have much in common. This totally idiosyncratic and unfounded and embarrassing prejudice meant I had absolutely zero investment in the hero. This is death to enjoyment of a romance.

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