Sunday, July 5, 2009

Excessive Violence in Romance Novels: Who Needs It?

Books are powerful things. They can make us fall in love with fictional characters. They can make us cheer for heroes and loathe evil villains. Scenes from novels linger in our memories forever. A truly gifted author can do that to her readers...she has power. Readers learn to trust an author...learn to care for the characters she creates, savoring their triumphs as their own. 

A long time ago, I was an obsessive mystery reader. I read all sorts of disturbing mysteries and barely batted an eyelash. And then I had a son. Suddenly, scenes of children being abducted, abused, and tortured were no longer palatable. I was exhausted and barely able to function. I needed something to make me feel good, lift my spirits and remind me that there is life outside of dirty diapers and mashed peas. I read my first romance novel and I was hooked. A guaranteed happy ending. Loving, intense sexual relationships. If I wanted to immerse myself in violence, abuse and depressing current issues, all I had to do was read the front page of the newspaper. Instead, I chose to lose myself in a romance novel, and I have been an addicted fan of this genre ever since.

One of the very first paranormal romance writers I discovered was Christine Feehan. I read one of her Carpathian vampire novels and was intrigued by this new landscape. Vampires are sexy? Although there was violence in this world, because it was not based in reality, but rather a paranormal setting, I was able to stomach it...especially since the complete devotion of these Carpathians to their lifemates was such a romantic notion. However, I noticed over the years that Feehan's books were becoming darker and more disturbing. The Ghostwalker series especially. Rape and violence against women was becoming a common theme in her books. 

Which brings me to Hidden Currents. I have been a faithful fan of the Drake Sisters series since the beginning. And finally, Feehan released the final, seventh installment of this paranormal series, Elle's story. I have been looking forward to this book all year. I started to get nervous after reading several comments from reviewers who received an advanced copy of the book. They liked it, but the torture and abuse and difficult subject matter (human trafficking) were hard to take. Uh oh. I ordered the book from Amazon. I wanted closure for the series...I was cheering for Elle and Jackson. They deserved a happy ending. Reader reviews started to trickle in on the Amazon website. Here are some of the comments..."[Feehan] let her readers down," "very disappointed," "disgusted," "made me sick," "simply awful," "degrading to any woman who has been raped," and worst of all, "I wish I hadn't read it." Many of these readers prefaced their comments by saying they were long-time Feehan fans. There are also some 5-star reviews from readers who loved this book regardless of the dark material.

So, I made a decision. Maybe I'm a big wuss. Maybe I'm missing out on some great books because I don't want to read such disturbing stuff. But I don't want a scene replaying through my head as I fall asleep where a character I have grown to care about is forced to endure horrendous abuse. I'm putting my unread copy of Hidden Currents on the shelf, and it's going to stay there. Every author has her own prerogative to write whatever she wants. Likewise, a reader has the prerogative to choose as well. I miss the old Christine Feehan books, which really focused on romance. I guess I'll have to be content with re-reading the old Dark series. In the mean time, I'm going to immerse myself in the many wonderful, non-violent romances being released, and continue to celebrate this genre I have grown to love.